Malibu down

Malibu crash newscast
This Malibu made national headlines in December–for all the wrong reasons.

It is an old, sad story that only becomes sadder in the seemingly endless retelling. Today’s newspaper headline reads, “Lifelong pals, wives perish in air crash… foggy conditions may have played a role.” The deceased were all in their early or mid 40s, and leave behind six children. They were successful business people, stalwarts of their church and their community, generous donors to many causes. An instrument-rated airman flew a highly capable Piper Malibu, with no mechanical defects yet revealed, into the ground while attempting an instrument approach to their small hometown airport– at dusk, in fog and mist, with a very low ceiling. A local member of the Board of Aviation Commissioners was quoted as saying, “The conditions that night were horrible.”

The facts of this tragedy are still emerging, but some things are known. The couples had flown to Florida on Friday for a weekend holiday, and were returning Sunday afternoon. By one account, they were eager to be home in order to witness the installation of a new Archbishop. The weather that evening was indeed very poor for the instrument approach. Friends who had traveled to Florida in another aircraft missed the approach about 45 minutes earlier, and diverted successfully to a larger tower-controlled airport with ILS approaches. The accident aircraft was in communication with Indianapolis approach when ATC lost it from radar and radio contact. ATC notified emergency services, as did a resident near the airport, after hearing the crash, but it took four hours to locate the wreckage in dark woods, because of poor visibility in fog, and mud.

Despite the lack of verified details, there is a dreary, depressing familiarity to this event. The pilot had only owned the Malibu a few months, and only earned his instrument rating earlier in the year. Could inexperience in hard IFR have played a role? Was he challenged by the complexity of the communications and navigation equipment? Could there have been a mis-set altimeter? Fuel exhaustion (there was no fire)? Was there an abrupt engine failure, with no time for a Mayday call? The couples had been on holiday, with a very short time between the outbound and return legs. Did fatigue or stress play a role? Was there “get home-itis,” an insistence about landing at home to end the trip quickly, or meet obligations the next day? One could speculate at length, but the basics are compelling and all too common: low-time instrument pilot, new complex airplane, time pressures, low light conditions, low clouds, and fog….

I34 approach plate
The RNAV 36 approach to I34 has minimums of 700 feet and 1 mile; ceilings were reported as low as 200 feet in the area.

What are we to do? The NTSB has exactly this kind of crash in its crosshairs—they want us to stop killing ourselves in light aircraft. It’s not for lack of trying on the part of the teachers; how many articles has Richard published on this very topic? And his father before him? And Peter Garrison, and numerous other aviation authors? Don’t instructors caution against stepping too far out on the risk curve, especially when one is inexperienced? Yet the fatal accident rates remain stubbornly high.

I cannot see a straightforward path to greater GA safety that does not infringe dramatically on the cost and utility of personal flight. Most of us cannot afford an extra engine, or a well-trained copilot, or annual FlightSafety training. Most of us fly aircraft that would qualify as Antique or Classic if they were automobiles, with all the maintenance and update issues that come with the aging of machines. But the underlying problems are generally not related to ATC’s failings, bad airports, or our machines falling apart. Those would be relatively easy to mitigate. As has been said countless times, it’s usually “pilot error,” with one or more poor decisions leading up to a fatal accident. That means a failure of judgment. It’s not clear to me that judgment can be taught in the usual GA pilot training/retraining environment, but that is without doubt the core issue. We must try to teach it, insist on it, reward it. A missed approach and diversion should be celebrated as good judgment, not a failure.

Again, where do we go from here? I suggest that public support for GA is weak, and that every fatal accident further erodes our citizens’ confidence in the safety and acceptability of personal flying. I think the clock is ticking on the viability of our social contract. We may regard personal transit of the airspace as a right, but most people, and many in the government, regard it as a privilege, which could be withdrawn. These safety issues deserve—urgently require—the attention of everyone in the GA world. Failure to police ourselves and reduce the fatal aircraft accident rates will probably bring restrictions and expenses that will threaten the future of personal flight. Do we have a plan?

29 Comments

  • Back when cars were killing people at the rate of 40,000/year and the airlines were crashing DC-3s almost weekly, the GA crashes didn’t seem so far from the norm. But the norm has shifted over the years and GA has not. As stated, despite all the efforts, we can’t seem to change it. Maybe it’s just been a grand failed experiment which proved that unsupervised humans are not capable of personal air transportation. In which case maybe we should revert to 2-place Piper Cubs on sunny days (to minimize the body count in any given accident) or just resign ourselves to playing video games on an Ipad for maximum safety.

  • “I cannot see a straightforward path to greater GA safety that does not infringe dramatically on the cost and utility of personal flight.” What utter nonsense!

    Ask Richard Collins who completed thousands of safe flights if he felt infringed upon as he went about the country running his traps and tending to his aviation chores. If so, he never complained. How much freedom does the pilot of the crashed Malibu have today? What would he be willing to pay for a different outcome on that last flight? A lot, I’d bet. No, the solution to this apparent dilemma is hiding in plain sight, but we are unlikely to see it.

    Safe flights are characterized by the absence of certain things like unmitigated risks; mistakes in judgment and execution; arrogance; overconfidence; and ignorance. To develop solutions, one must first define the issue or problem to be resolved, i.e., what is to be accomplished. The so-called problem has not been defined yet, hence there can be no solution. If there was a well defined problem, the solution would become apparent and we could set about implementing it. Writing about aviation accidents has developed into a cottage industry of sorts, but no one outside of a few hand wringers expressing public angst is complaining.

    As an industry, the GA community appears quite comfortable with accidents. It may even be good for business since it keeps insuance companies and repair shops going and aviation writers gainfully employed fussing about all the carnage. And there’ll always be a few folks around to buy new airplanes to replace those that are lost in crashes.

    But until such time as someone in a leadership role decides to scrap the current training environment and certification requirements, accidents will continue to occur at the same or perhaps a slightly lower rate due to the declining population of pilots and higher costs of operation. That is highly unlikely, however, because of the vested intests in the current system. Disruptive innovation almost never arises within existing infrastructure of mature organizations, and is unlikely to do so here!

    • Keith,

      Thanks for characterizing my thoughts as “utter nonsense.” Clearly, I disagree with you, and with many things you say. However, let’s focus on the central issue, that most fatal crashes occur because good judgment was not applied to the flight. The evidence before us challenges your recommendation that “…scrap[ing] the current training environment and certification requirements…” would substantially reduce accident rates. As I wrote, “I cannot see a straightforward path to greater GA safety that does not infringe dramatically on the cost and utility of personal flight.” Scrapping the current training environment for most GA pilots is a pipe dream– the training environment is so thin and underfunded that there are no resources for its reinvention at some higher level of competence. If we all had to go to FlightSafety for primary training, that would certainly change the cost of personal flight. Entirely new certification requirements? Meaning what? Should private pilots be required to have type certificates in their light aircraft? Your proposal is not evidence-based, not straightforward, and might well lead to “…restrictions and expenses that will threaten the future of personal flight.”

  • Well put hunter. I’m not so sure that only a few folks are the ones complaining. It only takes a shift in public opinion or the persistence of a few politicians to affect GA. GA is a passion that I want to endure for my children. This isn’t something that can be swept under the rug forever.

  • I totally agree Hunter. We cannot and never will change peoples decision making processes and no amount of training will make a difference.
    This is a huge tragedy but people will continue to make wrong choices, it’s no different than every other sport out there. People die continually whether it’s snow skiing out of bounds, driving intoxicated, or riding a quad without the use of a helmet.
    GA has a good track record and I don’t know of any other sport that has the support and backup like this one. Where I live there are numerous clubs and associations for support but those individuals that like to go it alone are missing out.

  • Perhaps instrument training needs to include more decision trees. The decisions must include flying missed approaches, diversions to other airports, and in route stops. Instrument flight plans need to include alternative plans. The reasons to take the alternative can be weather, equipment problems, or fatigue. When the facts dictate, it is time to execute the alternate plan, period.

    In 3400 hours of flying, most of which was good weather, I have only had to execute the alternate plan about a dozen times. Now that I’m retired, I wait for better weather before even starting the flight. I have still had to execute the alternative due to equipment and convective activity. Somehow the instrument training needs to incorporate this kind of planning, thinking, and resolve.

  • Nothing new here, again many GA pilots fail to grasp how serious and potentially dangerous IFR flight conditions are. Before you throw tomatoes, I grew up around aviation, many airports and military bases, my father retired from the FAA and I have read all about these (same) crash stories for the last 30 years. The bottom line is that if you do not practice IFR on a regular basis and more than the FAR minimum (6 approaches real or simulated in 6 months) and in a plane you have owned for awhile and are very comfortable flying, you’re asking for trouble. Current FAR 61.57 requirements for 6 real world or simulated approaches in 6 months seems nominal at best. I hope that the FAA can come to terms on how to implement a system of proof that aircraft owners are practicing in IFR on a regular basis more than minimum requirements in order to maintain their IFR rating. While I am certain many GA pilots are absolutely skilled and serious operators, it seems that the majority of GA pilots with a new IFR rating, should not even BE flying in this sort of weather in a light plane regardless of their “IFR rating”. I feel sorry for his family and friends. This was probably another avoidable tragedy.

  • Student pilot here.

    I’ve begun to realize I’ve entered the flying club at a time when pilot training is undergoing big transitions as are new plane designs. I’m an engineer by profession, very experienced in designing electronics with lots of ‘safety margin’.

    My $0.02: consumer technology is and will continue to make flying safer. I notice a lot of old school pilots, many younger than myself, who were trained with paper charts and gauges, are really reluctant to adopt the new technology. In part because of it’s ‘unproven’ value. In part because it’s never easy to adopt new habits.

    But I’d guess in 5 years time that most GA pilots will have better real-time, intuitively presented information on everything related to flight safety than airline pilots do now. Most of this technology will even be available in cockpits equipped with vintage controls. But some sort of federally incentivized cockpit upgrade program would certainly help.

    So why don’t we take credit for it and call it our ‘plan’? It’s going to happen either way.

    • Another engineer here.

      Actually it was military technology (GPS) that helped the most, not consumer technology. GPS keeps us chart holders from being lost so much of the time. But a “federally incentivized cockpit upgrade program”? I used to think the biggest danger in aviation was starvation, but now you’ve added a new one.

      I wish you well on future flights. But y’all be careful out there, even with the electronics.

    • I think the problem, however, is that no GPS or any other whiz-bang technology will prevent a pilot from trying to shoot an approach when ceilings are 200′

  • Comrade Hunter Heath: While the accident is unfortunate, I have problems with the hand wringing and vague theories that we have a social contract, or that the public is annoyed, or that anything needs to be done. I signed no contract. The annoyance i hear from the public is from the tinfoil hatted crowd fussing about contrails and the windbags who build near an airport only to discover airplanes go there. (Add certain nuclear power plant operators demanding personal airspace.) Demanding solutions before we understand the problem seems arrogant and invites speculation.

    I really love the quote: ‘A local member of the Board of Aviation Commissioners was quoted as saying, “The conditions that night were horrible.”

    What does it take to be on a board of aviation commissioners? The implication is that he or she is a pilot or controller or weather person. What are the facts?

    We don’t have much detail to go on. Did they run out of gas? Were they shot down? Hit a mongoose? Meteor collision? How was the plane equipped, and was the pilot proficient with the autopilot and navigators? About all we know is that the pilot filed a flight plan. We can all rest easy over that vital component of flight.

    You claim there are too many GA accidents. Relative to what? Nobody really knows how many miles/cubits/hours GA flies every year. The alphabets extrapolate from 100ll fuel sales, hours on medicals, and self reported questionnaires that miss mogas/kerosene burners, a few fibs on the medical and self reporting bias not to mention experimentals, so we don’t know the basics with any certainty.

    Finally, one must ask, what is your goal? Like my complaint with the global warming true believers: What accident rate/climate would make you happy?

    So I tend to agree with Keith Bumsted: First, we have to understand the problem. I also don’t believe that we can change behavior with legislation: We have to do it one pilot at a time.

    There is an interesting discussion about ‘beer fines’ here: http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/AVwebInsider_DitchSave_208240-1.html#read

    One way to spread the concept would be to monitor arrivals and departures at OSH. Much has been written about pilots who refused to get the arrival notam, could not maintain speed and altitude in the conga line or land on the spot, but the solution has been either blow it off or turn it over to the feds. How about something in between, like a beer fine? Peer pressure is a marvelous thing.

    At Red Flag we had ACMI where the planes were instrumented to report air data to a ground network and the whole mission was played back for the mob debriefing – beer in hand – to the entertainment of students, instructors and aggressors. The Warlord levied fines as the errors were identified and paid off at the bar. Failure to pay was a felony. the rest were misdemeanors because it was after all, training.

    At OSH one could video operations and ‘fine’ miscreants in a peer-pressure way that could keep the feds on the sidelines and the mob well fed and lubricated. Someone like Bob Hoover could be Warlord, and fines reduced for ‘constructive attitudes and butt kissing.’

    Then take that concept home and post fines somewhere public. I suppose a uniform list of bad behavior and fines might get traction along with a herd of buzzed, fat enforcers, but you get the idea.

  • After a crash, everybody feels the need to “do something.” That usually takes the form of “we need more regulation” or “The FAA should crack down.” That approach has been notoriously ineffective.

    I’ve been flying for 50 years, and run multiple FBOs for 42 of them. I see people doing stupid things almost every day. It poses a moral dilema for an FBO or airport manager–should they accost the offending pilot, or leave him/her alone? There are those who favor “Turn ’em in to the FAA.” That doesn’t work, and creates fractionalization within the local pilot community.

    When I learned to fly way back when, our local FBO/Airport manager exacted “beer fines”. The airport was a social place to go–pilots gathered here for evening BBQs–and to drink the results of the beer fines–and the obligatory case of beer for anyone who soloed or received a rating.

    If someone did something stupid, the FBO (or any other thirsty beer hound) would yell “Six-Pack!”–calling attention to the aeronautical transgression. It is a way of politely and non-threateningly saying “I saw you do something stupid.” The guilty party might try to “explain” his/her way out of it, but usually ended up paying the “fine”–and all of those in attendance (including the beer buyer) would gather socially to drink the assessment. The beer-buyer was bonded with the rest of the group.

    Beer fines vary with severity. Failure to install control locks? “SIX PACK!” Same for not securing the aircraft, or putting it back in the hangar. Failure to close a flight plan would be TWO six-packs–one for the failure, and one for lying to FSS by saying that the offending pilot was “putting the airplane away and just about to call you.” Again–the offending pilot and the person catching him were bonded. Starting an airplane in front of a hangar also incurs a two-six-pack assessment–PLUS being handed a broom and told to sweeep out the hangar. Leaving the mags on–leaving the master switch on can be costly or dangerous–a full case of beer must be bought for atonement!

    Pilots rarely made the mistake twice–and they became part of the airport social scene. There is NOTHING that compares to peer pressure to change behavior–certainly not “more regulation.” Pilots become mentors to other pilots–“I saw you buzzing the house last night–that’s really stupid–I’m sure you’ll never do that again. I’m not going to say anything–my silence can be purchased by a couple of six-packs of beer!”

    Everybody wants to be accepted by society–to “fit in”–and the six-pack method does exactly that. There’s even another benefit to the system–previous offenders usually like to become “senior advisors” to someone starting out–an entire airport community that takes an admittedly vested interest in looking for unsafe practices, rather than looking the other way.

    What happens if a pilot ignores well-intentioned advice from fellow aviators? That person just doesn’t fit in–he is effectively “shunned” for being a dangerous and uncaring pilot. It’s the ultimate sanction.

    I can’t claim authorship for the practice–Tom mentioned that the pilot’s “beer call” in the military has similar “rules.” The people in the military don’t undertake hazardous missions “For God & Country”–they do it so as not to let down their fellow aviators–the respect of fellow aviators mean so much to them that they will do almost anything to not let their comrades down.

    Taking personal care of problems, rather than run to the government to do it FOR you–that’s the way it USED to be done–and still is in many parts of the country. Give it a try next time you see someone doing something unsafe.

  • A tragedy I barely escaped a long time ago in a friend’s 170B. We too were trying to “get home” after a week end away with our wives. We ran into strong unforcasted headwinds flying west over the mountains into San Diego County late into Sunday evening. As we cleared the peaks we noticed the usual and forcast broken overcast was solid! My friend was not instrument rated, and I was not current. The nearest VFR alternate was some 50-miles behind us, and a no go! I called the El Cajon tower and requested a radar orientation and let down under the 2500-ft ceiling which was granted. I coached my friend on how to make the let down and we arrived safe and sound. Had we run out of fuel [we had an hour’s worth in reserve] it wpuld have been different.

  • Why would a good alternate only 50 miles behind to be a “no go”–rather than an instrument let down by non-rated pilots?

    That 50 miles is only 25 minutes at Cessna speeds–even less since you mentioned the high headwinds. What was so important that you wouldn’t take the “sure thing” by making the 180? You mentioned that you still had an hour of fuel reserve, even after the instrument letdown. How is it that you didn’t check the weather before takeoff–or enroute? A VFR pilot betting his life that he can find a hole in a broken layer isn’t playing the odds very well–and refusing the retreat to VFR conditions so close behind in favor of an instrument letdown is only doubling down on a bad bet.

    There are enough dangerous errors there to keep the airport beer hounds in suds for a month!

  • You’re right. It’s mindset and judgment.

    Here’s a suggestion. Add the following to your pre-approach checklist. Say aloud to yourself, “The only reason I am shooting this approach is so I can fly the missed. I will not break DH or MDA. I want to live.”

    You can’t legislate mindset or judgment. In the flying world, you have to live it (or die).

  • I am a 1-yr PPL, currently getting my tailwheel endorsement, doing some mild aerobatics, and about to start my instrument training. I thank God that I now have sufficient funds and time to put myself though ‘extra’ training to improve my stick and rudder skills. But I have to ask, if a low-time (250-500 hrs) pilot with a recent Instrument rating should not fly in serious IMC as sole PIC, how is that pilot supposed to get the recommended hours and experience in it? I see only 2 ways: 1) to spend tens of thousands of dollars (on top of the $20K-$40K to get the Instrument rating) flying with an CFII to get it, and 2) to get lucky enough to land a right-seat job with a skilled and experienced commercial pilot in the left seat (that is, after you’ve spent another $20K-$40K to get your CPL).

    I’m not saying this to imply that the only way to get that needed, useful, IMC experience without the two options mentioned above is to just do it on your own when you can. I am truly asking the question, because I’d like the answer. I will get my Instrument rating, I will get my CPL right after that, and will be very careful when dealing with IMC conditions. But sadly, I don’t see any way for a newer pilot to get that very valuable, actual IFR/IMC experience without either spending huge amounts of money, or getting lucky enough to land a right-seat job.

    I see articles where a fatal accident pilot still had near 1000 hrs or more, but lack of solid IMC experience was a factor in the accident. Is the only way to avoid this to be either rich or very lucky?

    • We do accelerated instrument training at my airport. Far from getting an instrument rating in sunny weather, the weather here is some of the worst–low ceilings, snow, ice, and thunderstorms in the summer. We fly every day that we have minimums.

      In getting your instrument rating–a simulator is invaluable. The instrument rating is all about being able to control the aircraft solely by reference to instruments–AND about position awareness. The sim does a good job of both.

      Some people get an instrument rating without ever getting their nose wet–we call them “ticket holders”–they have the rating, but no experience. The first time you encounter actual IFR should NOT be going solo! If your instructor won’t teach in anctual conditions–go somewhere else. All of our instrument students file IFR on the way home–they are confident and competent.

      I don’t believe in “personal minimums”. All too often, pilots will say “I’m not going to fly IFR unless the weather is 800/2”–that’s practically VFR! You’ve been trained to take the approach to minimums–the approach has been surveyed–and you should be able to do it. Watch the “ticket holders” with “high personal minimums” sweat the first time that the weather was not as forecast! As long as you have an out–go for it.

      How to build time and keep current? File IFR on every flight–even local ones. It will help keep you up to speed on working with your equipment–radio procedures, and the “rythym” of IFR ops.

      Find an IFR “stick buddy” and go fly–it is a good confidence builder for actual IFR ops, and on sunny days, you can BOTH log time if one of you acts as the required safety pilot. You can even share the gas or rental.

      “$20-$40000” to get an instrument rating is far too much. An instrument rating should take about the same amount of hours as a private pilot certificate–the minimum is 20 hours in the simulator and 20 hours in the aircraft. Even with the written passed, you will need about 40 more hours of ground instruction–“chalk talk” to learn position awareness and procedures. If learning in an accelerated school (as opposed to dragging it out over time) you should get your rating with a total of under 50 hours combined aircraft and sim time. Do the math for your own area rental, sim, and instructor costs.

  • We do accelerated instrument training at my airport. Far from getting an instrument rating in sunny weather, the weather here is some of the worst–low ceilings, snow, ice, and thunderstorms in the summer. We fly every day that we have minimums.

    In getting your instrument rating–a simulator is invaluable. The instrument rating is all about being able to control the aircraft solely by reference to instruments–AND about position awareness. The sim does a good job of both.

    Some people get an instrument rating without ever getting their nose wet–we call them “ticket holders”–they have the rating, but no experience. The first time you encounter actual IFR should NOT be going solo! If your instructor won’t teach in anctual conditions–go somewhere else. All of our instrument students file IFR on the way home–they are confident and competent.

    I don’t believe in “personal minimums”. All too often, pilots will say “I’m not going to fly IFR unless the weather is 800/2”–that’s practically VFR! You’ve been trained to take the approach to minimums–the approach has been surveyed–and you should be able to do it. Watch the “ticket holders” with “high personal minimums” sweat the first time that the weather was not as forecast! As long as you have an out–go for it.

    How to build time and keep current? File IFR on every flight–even local ones. It will help keep you up to speed on working with your equipment–radio procedures, and the “rythym” of IFR ops.

    Find an IFR “stick buddy” and go fly–it is a good confidence builder for actual IFR ops, and on sunny days, you can BOTH log time if one of you acts as the required safety pilot. You can even share the gas or rental.

    “$20-$40000” to get an instrument rating is far too much. An instrument rating should take about the same amount of hours as a private pilot certificate–the minimum is 20 hours in the simulator and 20 hours in the aircraft. Even with the written passed, you will need about 40 more hours of ground instruction–“chalk talk” to learn position awareness and procedures. If learning in an accelerated school (as opposed to dragging it out over time) you should get your rating with a total of under 50 hours combined aircraft and sim time. Do the math for your own area rental, sim, and instructor costs.

  • Colleagues,

    There have been many good thoughts and suggestions in the above comments, and a few that I think miss the point. Some really need to “wake up and smell the coffee.” Below, I give responses to the aggregate of comments. FWIW, I earned my instrument rating in the 1980s, schooled by a woman who was a nighttime freight dog in Minnesota (ice!). She had a desktop simulator and a real curriculum; she made sure we flew in groaty weather, and my night cross-country took me (and her) through the wringer. Once rated, I began flying easy IFR (punching through thin decks to sunny-on-top) and gradually flying messier stuff. I decided finally that staying competent and confident was too damned much work and risk for someone who could not afford all the bells and whistles, or the time needed for quality recurrent training. Single-pilot IFR in an old Skyhawk with no autopilot? No deal. So I became and remain a VFR-only pilot.

    My comments:

    –It is a fact that public support for GA is weak. If you don’t believe me, poll your non-flying neighbors and work associates. The media, industry critics, and our own crackups continually eat at that support.

    –As for GA having a “social contract,” if you don’t know that is, read up on it. GA’s social contract is a tacit agreement between the GA community and the rest of the citizenry that we are allowed to exercise our privileges (yes, that’s the regulatory term) as long as the people, acting through elected and appointed representatives, agree. Erosion of that social contract can only bring more of the government regulation that we justly dread. Destruction of that contract brings the kind of oppressive GA environment our European colleagues endure.

    –The question of what GA accident and fatality rates are “acceptable” vs. “too high” relates directly to the social contract. It is not we, and not even the FAA, who will decide when the death rate is too high. When the NTSB, industry critics, the media, or the Congress decide it’s too high, then it’s too high. When the “deciders” decide, forces will come down on us intended to reduce the death rate. The only way to avoid the hand of government is for the GA community to bring those rates down.

    –I agree with several commenters that instrument training and maintenance of high instrument competency are serious issues in the weather-related crash rate. My experience is that the training is highly variable, depending on the instructor(s), available equipment, nature of the curriculum, geography, and student attitudes. To avoid heavy and destructive regulation, the question is, what can the GA community do to improve this situation?

    –I like Jim Hanson’s peer pressure idea, but remember the varied opinions expressed in this journal about what to do if one sees an airman doing something stupid and dangerous, such as trying to take off in an overloaded aircraft at high elevation on a hot day. There has to be something useful and feasible here, but can we achieve wide buy-in? A flying club, or a tightly-knit small airport community can bring considerable peer pressure, but how would we reach the “lone wolves,” who seem to be disproportionately represented in crash statistics?

    To conclude, my article in no way suggested, requested, or encouraged more regulation by the federal government. Whatever new regulations might come are likely to further diminish the utility and increase the cost of GA flying. I return to my original last line: do WE [emphasis added] have a plan? Or will we fritter away in unproductive bickering the future of this thing we all love? One definition of insanity, or so it goes on the internet, is doing the same failing thing over and over, in hopes of achieving a different outcome. Do we– can we– have a plan?

    Thanks and best regards to all the passionate and thoughtful commenters,

    Hunter

    • Well said, Hunter. As I said in my last article, I wonder if safety and freedom aren’t fundamentally opposed here. Airlines are incredibly safe, and drowning in regulations. Experimental aircraft are (by comparison) quite free, but they suffer a terrible accident record. Seems to me we are looking for that Goldilocks scenario where we’re free enough to have fun and utility but safe enough to keep the politicians/bureaucrats/etc. away. It’s a tall order.

    • Very good comments, Hunter. Excellent insight and wisdom.

      We, for the most part anyway, are preaching to the choir in these blogs. We are those who continually try to continue our ‘education’, and pound safety into our noggins if you will, by reading articles on the Internet, magazines, accident reports, go to FAAST meetings, or do the Safety Institute or Wings lessons.

      I work at an airport, know and talk regularly with many pilots… most of which do little to none of such. How many pilots do you know who do? Certainly not to paint all with the same brush, but too many of the younger ones are too sure/full of themselves and some of the older multi-hour ones seem to think they don’t need it or are above it. Don’t have time for all that is a common excuse. I can’t count how many times I’ve witnessed what (in my opinion anyway) was less than good judgement, unnecessary risks taken, but lady luck was with them and they’ve goten away with it… so far.

      It’s not always the other guy that accidents/incidents happen to. We’re all human and humans sometimes screw up so I don’t like to be judgemental. But, again in my opinion, this ‘continueing education’ sure helps keep safety and what can happen (and what can be done to mitigate it) fresh in our minds.

  • Hunter–you received your instrument training from Marcy–at my airport in Albert Lea. Good call on your part–if a pilot is not willing or able to maintain instrument currency, they don’t belong in the system. Even flying VFR, I’m sure that you have lessons, procedures, and knowledge from your instrument training that will always carry over into your VFR flying. Additional training is rarely wasted.

    You are correct–peer pressure is only effective when applied by peers–those who know the person trying to change. There is little to do to positively affect the person that operates outside of the circle of local pilots. If a stranger accosts a pilot doing something dangerous, the pilot usually reacts by beooming defensive.

    One of the insights in growing older is to realize what can and cannot be achieved–and applying peer pressure on a stranger is one of the things that can’t be effective. Changing LOCAL pilot behavior,however–the people we care most about–CAN be done. Perhaps if more airports and flying clubs adopted the cordial “beer fines”–a social approach–the community would be the better for it.

    It can’t hurt–the present system isn’t working–you can’t make anyone compliant that will not acknowledge the problem and be willing to change. Besides–if done correctly–you will make new friends, develop a tighter bond at the airport, and enjoy more beer! (laugh)

    • To Jim Hanson,

      Indeed, Marcy it was who taught me instrument flying– in an accelerated course. We tried to do it in a week, but the weather got too bad even for her, so I had to come back for a few days to finish. I was convinced that she had given me the tools needed to start working my way into the system, and she did. Even Darrell thought so when he did my check ride at RST! I hope she went on to bigger and better things, and is still around and maybe still flying.

      Hunter

  • In reply to John Zimmerman–I don’t agree that safety and freedom are fundamentally opposed. LSAs are “freeer” than GA airplanes (they require less training, can be worked on by their owners, have no medical) yet their record is equivalent to GA airplanes–no apparent linkage. People predicted wholesale carnage with the old ultralights. The FAA didn’t even consider them airplanes–they required NO pilot training, there was NO requirement for maintenance, and NO requirement for a medical–yet their fatality rate was little different from GA airplanes.

    The lesson here–regulation in and of itself doesn’t work. Regulation requring demonstrated proficiency (like the airlines and corporate type ratings and annual flight checks) work–but the cost of compliance requires a fat corporate checkbook.

    Since its inception, the Bonanza was called “The fork-tailed doctor killer”–the inference was that there was nothing wrong with the airplane–only that people were flying and dying in them–people that could afford to write the check for the aircraft but didn’t have the requisite skills to fly one proficiently. Today, some charge that the Cirrus has taken over that role–a fast, expensive airplane that requires good skills and good judgement to fly it safely.

    As mentioned–required training and proficiency demonstration WORKS. Consider the early Learjets–even though operated by “professional” pilots, about 1 out of 4 crashed before type ratings and recurrent training were required. Even if not FAA mandated, high-performance aircraft type-specific training is usually mandated by insurance companies. Turbne corporate airplanes today usually match the airlines in safety records–despite the comparative lack of FAA regulation under part 91–and despite the risk of operating to smaller airports and random destinations.

    Where should the bar for requiring this training be set? Once again–looking to the government results in a heavy-handed “one size fits all” regulation. Instead, leave it to the insurance companies–they have a vested interest in safety, and the loss statistics to back up their rates. It is the insurance companies–NOT the FAA–that have done the most to improve the accident rate. More regulation is not the answer. You can’t legislate good decision-making on the part of pilots. The marketplace is always the ultimate arbiter of what makes sense.

  • Perhaps not in your state, but insurance IS required in Minnesota, and in most states where there is aircraft registration.

    The post was in reply to Mr. Zimmerman’s statement that “safety and freedom are fundamentally opposed.” The insurance companies have been more effective in improving safety than government regulations.

    Insurance companies make a bargain with the insured–“we will stand behind your loss IF you accomplish the following conditions.” Government, in contrast, simply says “Thou shall not…………..”

  • Darwin through economics will improve the absolute accident statistics if not the moving average. The population of middle aged pilots flying complex aircraft continues to decline, and the influx of service trained pilots is historic. Also there is no real volume production of complex aircraft, and hopefully the current high performance FG aircraft will in due course deliver the safety standards which were built into them.

    However there have been real improvements in the basic FG SEP aircraft: better seats, air bags, weather data, ground proximity data, redundancy in electrics and gyros, traffic, improved autopilots/glass cockpits. These aircraft continue to provide safety at what are probably acceptable rates to society – say less than 1 in 100,000 hours fatality rates. While not exactly volume production, these types soldier on, and eventually average accident statistics will hopefully converge on the rates delivered by these type of aircraft historically.

    Realistically GA in the medium term will be either LSA, or 400nm light IFR mission aircraft in production certified types. Hopefully starting to grow again from a safer base.

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