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Are Pilots Poor Learners?

By Ian Brown, EAA 657159, Editor and Canadian Council Board Member

April 2017 - Firstly, SUN ’n FUN International Fly-In & Expo was great this year. A little chilly toward the weekend especially in the evening for those of us who were camping — not at all what you expect when you exchange snowscapes for palm trees. There was the usual array of exciting air shows, including the spectacular and very loud Blue Angels. One absence to note was electric aircraft. Precious little was on show, and the enduring problem of energy density seems to be far more intransigent than people had hoped just a few years ago. The motors are fine; it’s the batteries that seem to be the problem: What weight do you need? How long will that let you fly, and how long does a recharge take?

I thought I’d share with you a fascinating talk to a packed room about The Top Ten Pilot Errors presented by a very competent Michele Rash. I’ll get to the reason for the subject title shortly.

The reasons for accidents were presented in order of least to most common. They were presented with interesting examples, but it’s likely you can contribute your own.

  • Improper use of avionics, unfamiliarity, lack of calibration, incorrect altitude, etc.
  • Ran out of fuel
  • Failure to use IMSAFE checklist (illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, emotion)
  • Failure to use aircraft checklist
  • Inadequate preflight planning
  • Inadequate preflight inspection
  • Low-level maneuvering
  • Poor pilot communication
  • Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), altimeter setting, mountains, terrain
  • Weather

Apparently, 80 percent of all fatalities are weather-related, and despite the large loss of life when an airliner goes down, the vast majority of weather-related fatalities are in the general aviation fleet. They are often referred to as “inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions,” but the presenter questioned how “inadvertent” they really were since the pilot was making decisions from the minutes before they even got into the aircraft. One report, in 2004, related that as many as 88 percent of all weather-related fatalities were the result of VFR GA flights entering IMC conditions.

What was especially surprising was that this statistic has been true and pretty much unchanged for the last 50 years, and no amount of instrumentation seems to have made a difference.

So, to get back to the title of this piece, are pilots poor learners? Well, it seems that we are, at least in this aspect. In thinking about this, I guess we all have to learn our own lessons, but a few ideas come to mind, and you have heard most of them before, but I’ll relate a few based on my own “weather experiences.”

  • Avoid get-home-itis — bite the bullet and find somewhere else to wait it out.
  • Be informed — communicate with other pilots, and be attentive to weather at your destination, ask about conditions en route.
  • Use all means wherever possible to get as much information before flying.
  • Never “assume” anything — it makes an “ass” of “u” and “me.”
  • Learn from mistakes — ain’t never going to fly 1,000 feet above that ridge again!
  • Go-arounds are free — don’t hesitate to push the do-over button.
  • Be a student of meteorology — learn to predict when you’ll hit icing, solid cloud base, or strong turbulence over a certain ridge.

I’m sure there are those of you who can say, “Well I got home okay, but it was a scary landing.” We’ve all been there. It would be interesting to look at those statistics from the perspective of total hours flown versus weather-related accidents.

You may be interested in watching this frank video of a pilot’s experience in almost flying into IMC between Burlington and Toronto Centre.

Most of us do learn, but my personal take-home from this talk was don’t push the edges of the weather envelope — therein lies danger. Eighty percent of all fatalities are due to weather! Safe flying in 2017.

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