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I am not a pilot. I don't have any pilot certifications. In fact I have yet to fly in either 'seat' of an airplane, left or right. At 38, the closest I've ever been to a cockpit (besides a quick tour on my 11th birthday of the flight deck of a Pan Am 747) was as a passenger on a Twin-Otter flying short inter-island hops in Hawaii. I've always been intrigued with aviation and aerospace and early this year I decided to take a closer look at becoming a private pilot. I bought Flight Simulator X and the 'realistic' controls. I bought all the books including the FAR/AIM. I buy this magazine off the rack every month. The June 2010 issue of Flying, however has given me pause. It hasn't killed my desire entirely, but it has become a definite speed bump on the road to becoming a pilot, the next step being the actual selection of a flight school.
I should be more specific. The article "The Psychology of Safety" by Mr. J. Mac McClellan has done more to dampen my enthusiasm for becoming a pilot more than any other factor. Why? As simply as I can describe, it has put into question, my confidence with the aviation community. Unfair as it may sound, Mr. McClellan has summed-up the current state of the GA environment in two sentences-- "And it is the major injury and fatal accident that cost insurance companies so much, and drive pilots' premiums so high. The fact that general aviation kills 500 or more people in a year is crazy, and even more so because nothing in that sorry record has changed over the years."
Of course, the key message of this article is intended to be 'let's make things better,' let me be the first one to counter in writing that his article does not. First of all, I suggest everyone take a look at the following link--www.ntsb.gov
Yes, it does show that at 494, the 2008 (non-preliminary) GA fatalities is in line with Mr. McClellan's "500" number. What I do not see, is the "nothing in that sorry record has changed over the years." From what I can garner from the official NTSB records, the published 20-year trend shows a significant decline in accidents and fatalities, down from a high of 2242 accidents in 1990 and 866 fatalities in 1992. Although the *accident rate* has remained relatively consistent, given the fewer number of logged flight-hours (also trending down,) the preliminary 2009 number of 1474 accidents and 474 fatalities has never been lower. In fact, the *fatality rate* has gone from 35.8 in 1992 to 23.1 in 2009 (per 100,000 flight hours.) Considering the sheer number of GA pilots, flights and aircraft in the U.S., now versus 1992; the number of experimental, home-built and high-performance aircraft now versus 1992, and the whole LSA class of pilots-- the "sorry record" is not apparent in the numbers.
Certainly, we should do what ever we can to reduce fatalities. But at what cost? The future that I see is one where only governments and commercial companies with highly trained, professional pilots can 'fly.' A world where the primary drivers behind aircraft sales is TBO's and the availability of TAWS and TCAS. Perhaps that trend is inevitable; we do live in a litigious world. Disappointment runs deeper still, when the Editor-In-Chief of Flying would proclaim "It is clear that the biggest risk in general aviation is the psychology of pilots." Note Mr. McClellan's use of "general aviation" in that sentence-- not simply "aviation." He is making a clear distinction between four-bar ATP's and shlub's like me who just bought their first cardboard E6B. I call this the "let's scare the crap out of the newbies-- airspace is crowded enough as it is" phenomena. Look for it at a newsstand near you.
Re-reading the article (after I wrote the above,) the resultant message to me from Mr. McClellan is as follows-- "As the amateur flier of single-engine prop-jobs, go get Avemco insurance; they tend to screw you less, because they've crunched the numbers to get screwed less."
A friend of mine once showed me his private pilot's license. I though it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen (even if it was sullied by a whole list of "restrictions",) because to me, the designer of that document chose to capture the significance and 'magic' of manned flight and the two men who were brave enough to prove it possible. Now after countless hours studying and researching the political dynamics of flight, I feel that those two men would be extremely disappointed at the current state of aviation.
Having said all that, I'll still sit way up front on small commuter airplanes, just to see all the gauges and flight controls. At least now I know the difference between the 'T' and the 'P' levers, even if I never get the opportunity to move one in flight.
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