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Flying Is Risky
By Radek Wyrzykowski
February 2017 - How many times you have heard, “Driving to the airport is more dangerous than flying”? Every time we get in the air, we think of our flight as being the safe one. We have done all mandatory briefings, obtained all pertinent information, and have done our preflight. Yet accident rates in general aviation remain obstinately unchanged, and the fatality rate hangs at just over one death per every 100,000 hours, per NTSB. GA aircraft have a death rate about 19 times greater than driving. Maybe the problem is that for years we have been lying to ourselves and others. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to say out loud, “Flying GA is, and is going to be, risky.”
Some of you will most likely scream here, “But Radek, who will want to do such a dangerous and risky activity? We have to make it safe.” My prediction is, when we are honest more people will come than you think.
Maslow’s order of needs is a concept in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” It states that “self-actualization” is the highest level of human need and our ultimate desire. This level refers to what a person’s full potential is and the realization of that potential. In other words, it is in our nature to want to accomplish things.
We define accomplishment as the achievement of a task. The more challenging and risky the task, the higher is the level of satisfaction. We undertake dangerous activities starting in our childhood, with climbing trees or learning how to travel on only two wheels. And while many may settle in life with satisfaction derived from less risky accomplishments, some of us will always push for the ultimate.
Would we go rock climbing having the assurance of 100 percent safety? Would we go skiing knowing that it does not require any skill to concur? Would we descend down into a dark cave knowing what is there and being assured of absolute protection? Would you become a police officer knowing that you will never have to face a challenging situation? Would you join the Army? All those activities require acquired skill, training, practice, risk assessment, and risk management. And that is exactly why we are doing them — not because they are safe, but because they are risky. I will argue that elimination of the risk factors in the above would significantly diminish the attractiveness of those activities. The same would happen in general aviation. But risk does not have to be dangerous.
I will argue that we fly exactly because general aviation is not safe and requires a significant level of skill, learning, and accomplishment. Unfortunately, once we pass our stages of achievement, many times we quickly forget that every flight must become an individual challenge, which we must analyze and assess, and for which we must prepare as we would have when doing it for the first time. When there is no instructor or examiner anymore to challenge us, it is our obligation to challenge ourselves.
I am sure you have heard about risk management. Risk management is defined as the identification, assessment, and prioritization of hazards followed by coordinated application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and impact of those unfortunate events. Nobody is talking about risk elimination, which would actually eliminate risk management as there would be nothing to manage.
So let’s not be afraid to say, “General aviation flying is risky.” And this is precisely why we are doing it, knowing that proper risk management will not allow it to become a dangerous activity.