Are You a Safe Pilot?

Five newly issued NTSB Safety Alerts highlight the risks facing GA pilots. How we use the information is up to us.

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The NTSB this week issued five GA Safety Alerts aimed at preventing the most common fatal general aviation accidents. The big question centers on whether the Board's action will have any discernable impact in moving the safety needle. My guess is no, it won't.

Here's the reason: The vast majority of GA pilots won’t take the time to read the Safety Alerts, if they’re even aware that they exist in the first place. Maybe it’s a consequence of the fast-paced world in which we live. Who has time to read through a bunch of dry safety material? My personal view is even a little more cynical than that: Most pilots won’t read the NTSB’s Safety Alerts because they believe they know it all already. That safety stuff is for the other guy, they think.

But let’s be honest. As the NTSB rightly points out, GA pilots keep making the same mistakes over and over again. If the types of accidents that were killing pilots 30 years ago were replaced by entirely new categories of accidents today, that would be one thing. But the simple truth is we’re not learning from the mistakes of the past. We just keep doing the same dumb things in exactly the same dumb ways.

Why is that? I think it all comes down to how we’re being trained and, maybe more to the point, what we’re focusing on during our periodic flight reviews. Flight instructors everywhere ought to review the NTSB’s GA Safety Alerts and figure out how to incorporate the lessons they contain into their training curricula. That means placing a much bigger emphasis during initial and recurrent training on the potential dangers of low-level maneuvering flight, continued VFR into reduced visibility conditions, mechanical emergencies and the flight risks we face everytime we turn the key and start the engine.

Rather than merely ticking the boxes so the student can pass the practical test or the private pilot can get through his flight review, the focus should be on ensuring that pilots new and old truly understand the risk factors the NTSB has identified and won’t go out and make those same mistakes in the airplane.

Each year, safety investigators in the United States travel to the scenes of around 1,500 aircraft crash sites involving about 400 fatalities. Frankly, they’re sick and tired of doing it. While it’s true no safety initiative is likely to prevent every accident, the current average of four crashes a day is unacceptable.

We can do better. We have to do better. The question is, will we? That's entirely up to us.