(September 2011) The following conversation did not take place during the Pilot Training Reform Symposium sponsored by SAFE (Society of Aviation and Flight Educators) — but it could have.
During a coffee break between sessions, a small cluster of aviation educators are discussing ways to lower the stagnant rate of general aviation acci-
dents and to change the general aviation safety culture.
“We have to acknowledge that there are risks involved when we fly an airplane and not pretend that the risks don’t exist,” explains Rich, a flight instructor whose shirt indicates he is a Master CFI.
“Yeah, but if we talk about the risks, we’ll scare away potential students,” says Phil, an older instructor who cups his ear to hear better, testifying to his many years in the cockpit. “If we tell them it’s risky, they’ll be afraid to learn to fly.”
“I don’t think that’s really true,” volunteers Susan, a woman whose name tag indicates she’s the chief pilot with a flight school. “There are risks in almost everything we do; it’s just that we’ve learned to recognize the risks and mitigate them.”
“I still think that if we point out the risks we’ll lose potential students,” Phil insists.
“Look,” Susan says, “we don’t have to point out the risks. With the help of the media, there’s no question that anyone considering learning to fly is well aware of the risks. Unfortunately, airplane mishaps, no matter how minor, fuel the media’s appetite. Just think about recent news reports. There was the report of a ‘near miss’ when Michelle Obama was riding along and the airplane had to make a go-around. And the media lamented that pilots had to land without ‘help’ from controllers when the tower people were asleep at the switch. So people are aware of what the media ballyhoo as risks. What they didn’t learn from the media was that in neither case was anyone ever in any danger. The public wasn’t told that a go-around is something taught from the beginning of training so pilots can deal with just such circumstances. And while the public was being frightened to think pilots had to land without someone on the ground holding their hand, pilots who operate from the thousands of pilot-controlled airports must have scoffed at the idea that, like Charlie who got stuck on the MTA, the pilots would have circled the airport forever and never returned.”
“You’re right,” John agrees. “The media have done a good job of portraying flying as risky. The responsibility for flight instructors is to help students recognize the risks inherent in flying and to teach them how to safely deal with them.”