Should you take your grandchildren flying?

Both of our kids were in the backseat of our Mooney 201 headed off to visit one grandmother or the other before they were two weeks old. Stancie and I never really gave it a second thought. Traveling in our own airplane, always IFR, and in most any kind of weather, is how we got around.

But that was 40 years ago. And much has changed—actually, almost everything has changed—when it comes to risk assessment for young children.

Back then, we, and essentially all new parents we knew, didn’t strap infants in car seats. When they were a little bigger we did put them in car seats, but horror of horrors, faced the car seats forward. And we even often put the kid’s car seat in the front passenger seat. Easier to reach them there.

I can’t remember our kids ever wearing a helmet for any reason. I built them a playhouse with a top floor eight feet off the ground. They learned to drive at 16. We even bought them a beater of a car to knowing they would bend whatever they drove. The only “safety” gear I recall them using was a mouthguard to play field hockey.

Now we have very young grandchildren. They still can’t ride in a car seat facing forward. They wear helmets just to walk, not to mention riding a scooter or a swing. Many states have raised minimum driving age to, well, I don’t know, somewhere north of 35.

Kid in Cessna
Is mom OK with this?

If you’re a grandparent, you know all of this. We never say anything to discourage the risk abatement activity that is now expected of any responsible parent. And our kids wouldn’t listen to us on the topic anyway. Sometimes conversation with the kids turns to the days when they were young and how they all survived to adulthood despite the risky behavior we engaged in and allowed for them.

All of this raises the question for me: should we take our grandchildren flying in a general aviation airplane?

We readers of Air Facts fly GA aircraft of all sorts. But, I hope you know and accept that flying a piston airplane is simply more risky than flying in a transport category airplane operated by a professional crew. And it’s also substantially more risky than traveling by automobile. Taking on that risk to fly ourselves for our own reasons is rational for me, and for Stancie, and for all the active GA pilots I know. But is it a risk your kids understand and want to accept for their new children, your grandchildren?

I suspect you’re a lot like me and resent being told by some authority what risks are acceptable for your personal safety. But I also assume you are hesitant, and probably even refuse, to put others at risk that you find to be acceptable but they might not fully comprehend.

An example of that attitude that comes to my mind is discussing weather with another pilot. I know what conditions I find acceptable for that day and that I believe are within the capability of the airplane I’m flying. But when the other pilot asks if he should take off, I hesitate. Actually, I waffle and really give no definitive answer or advice. I don’t want to assume risk for him, or encourage him to accept risk for himself he may not want.

And that’s where I come down so far on taking the grandkids flying. I haven’t. Nor have I discussed it with their parents. Such a frank discussion would require explaining that in GA piston airplanes there are a number of possible failures that could cause a forced landing. And most forced landings are survivable, but so are most car crashes, even when the child is not in a car seat.

There’s also the issue that many of us gramps and grannies are in our 70s and the odds of something going wrong with us have increased since our kids were little.

Bottom line is, how could I ever live with myself, or have loved ones live with my memory, if taking a grandchild flying ended in tragedy?

I have no answer as to whether you should take your grandkids flying or not. I just hope the risks are something you and their parents discuss and understand before buckling the kid into the rear-facing car seat for the drive to the airport. For better, or maybe worse, it’s not 1980 anymore.

72 Comments

  • ok – i realize that disagreeing with a grandparent about grandkids is ripe with peril….and to be transparent – I have no grandkids….so let’s just consider this a thought experiment 🙂

    I believe your logic is flawed. Your point basically boils down to 1) small airplanes are more dangerous than cars, 2) I couldn’t live with myself if I was the cause of something tragic for my grandkids – therefore – I don’t take them flying….

    Point 1 is demonstrably true – but your implication is that because small planes are ‘riskier’ that cars – planes are bad and cars are not (for grandkids). I’m going to make an assumption that you would take your kids for a car ride. And that’s what I don’t understand about your argument. Some risk with your grandkids is okay, some risk is not. Where is that line? If point 2 is true then you shouldnot drive your grandkids either – because it is not without risk – and I’m guessing you’d feel just as bad if something tragic happened to them in the car. Do you weigh the risk of EVERY activity with your grandkids?

    Also the argument that they may not be able to fully understand the risk of a small airplane isn’t a valid point – I doubt they fully understand the risk of riding in the car.

    Assesing risk is difficult – I admit. And when it comes to grandkids – I can only imagine the difficulty level skyrockets….and choosing not to take your grandkids flying is a perfectly legitimate option. I just don’t think you arrived at that decision through risk assessment….

    Remember – a thought experiment 🙂 I probably wouldn’t take your grandkids flying either 🙂

    • Hi Gary,
      The question is adding risk to the grandkids lives. Their parents already travel with them in the car. Not my decision. The parents don’t take them flying in light airplanes. So me taking them in a piston airplane would be the added risk they don’t encounter now.
      Mac Mc

      • By adding risk, you likely also add “return.” Any time you take your grandchildren out for an excursion, even if you’re walking to the local ice cream establishment, you’re exposing them to risk. Is the risk worth it? Who knows? We all strive to manage risk in our lives. The point of life is not to live with zero risk, but to take risks that are not beyond our absolute tolerance (e.g., some adventurous souls will take a flight with SpaceX eventually, while the vast majority of others who can afford it will take a pass) and will deliver a “return” that is at least commensurate with the risk.

    • In ’86, I met a very nice woman who had two young children, ages 2 and 4, from a previous marriage. A week into our relationship, she asked me if I’d watch her kids while she went to work. I was 40 years old, had been married, but never had kids. I said OK, figuring it would be easy. It wasn’t. After a messy lunch, the kids started to get difficult, so I told them we were going flying. The kids had never been in an airplane before and we had a great time, flying my 185 up the California coast. The kids were perfect. When their mom got home, the four year old excitedly told her what we had done. That got me in some trouble, but we’re still flying.

  • I understand your point – but that’s not how risk works. You don’t get 1 unit of risk for ‘riding in cars’ and 1 unit of risk ‘flying in small airplanes’ so if you do both you have 2 units of risk in your life. Every time you ride in a car there is risk – every time you fly in the plane there is risk. If you take your grandkids for a car ride today – you can’t claim there is no additional risk in their lives just because their parents took them for a car ride yesterday….

  • Excellent article Mr. McClellan. While many won’t agree, I believe you have shown yet another aspect of the risk assessment matrix and thought process. Anything that gets us thinking more protectively about risk while on the ground is good, regardless of where we fall on the acceptable/unacceptable line in my opinion.

    Also, as the daddy to the girl in the picture, I want to assure you that mom is ok with her flying ;). She has about 200 hours in the plane and at least 10 as copilot-on-controls, which for isn’t too shabby at age 7.

    Safe flights, blue skies, and tailwinds!

    • Great article on living life!

      At the tender age of 68, with many issues getting here, I have come to the realization that life is made up of risks. It’s how we deal with them determines what “level” of “life” you want to live.
      At my airline we called it “ threat-error- management”.
      But not until the later part of my career.

      So how did I / we survive?

      Lessons from the “ elders”!

      And that leads me to my grandchildren, (4!). Neither of my daughters would hesitate to allow my grandchildren to fly with me. Why? Because they realize the inherent issue of risk in life, weight the positive vs negative of the act and realize using common sense and logic that being with Papa is better than the bedroom and the X-box!

      Btw… I am currently teaching my oldest grandson his private pilot course!!!!!

  • I totally understand your attitude. Bringing other people’s kids flying is a huge responsibility. In-practice it should be no different from taking anyone else flying, but it feels more weighty. I treat it differently, more like a doctor advising a patient of the risks and benefits of an unnecessary medical procedure. If the kid or parent is unwilling to go, I don’t go out of my way to persuade them them to go.

  • Excellent article, I agree with all points you have made and I’d say they apply to parents of younger children, too.

    Most forced landings are survivable but there are emergency procedures passengers are supposed to follow. At what age are they really able to?

    And, when it comes to your kids, shouldn’t you have another pilot on board – even if you are young? There is a reason for it in commercial aviation.

    Now, I don’t mean to suggest that kids should grow up in bubbles – but aviation has always been a special human endeavour where safety is the first thing you can’t have too much of.

  • John Zimmerman of Air Facts and Sporty’s has a great response to the question. He told me he plans to teach his kids to fly so the choice of taking his grandkids flying will be up to them, the grandkids parents.
    That’s what I call proactive planning, John.
    Mac Mc

  • Life has risks. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, there is risk involved. One could argue that to refrain from every activity for fear of risk is not really living. It is heartbreaking to think how parents and grandparents deprive their offspring the joys and experiences life has to offer just because there is a risk of getting hurt or worse. That child could be a future astronaut, airline pilot, or who knows what just because you planted a seed and exposed them to flight. Because of your lack of courage, that child could be sentenced to a life of mundane boredom. That, in my opinion, is a form of child abuse.

  • The decision is up to the parents. I see no reason why a grandparent should adverse to taking a grandchild flying. As long as you don’t do really stupid things like low altitude maneuvering, running out of gas, and continuing flight into weather you are not trained or equipped for, flying is safer than driving. Pilots who did those stupid things probably didn’t live long enough to become grandparents! Of course, most parents today have drunk the “risk adverse” kool-aid, so they probably won’t let you, even if they logged hundreds of hours with you when they were kids.

  • I have been totally unsuccessful getting any of my six grandkids in the air. That seems unfortunate. Flying is a unique activity that offers experiences unavailable anywhere else. Oh well. Such is life.

  • @David R – Well – Mac is correct in that the data doesn’t support that “flying is safer than driving”. Neither is risk free and everyone should asses the risks for themselves….

    • As Dick Collins pointed out numerous times the three things I listed are what get pilots killed. The NTSB reports are rife with continued flight into adverse weather, fuel exhaustion and low level maneuvering accidents. If you avoid just those three your risk declines dramatically. If you’re still worried, stick to 172s which have the lowest fatality rate following engine failure of any light aircraft.

  • Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Mac. My daughter-in-law took the decision from me, forbidding my taking the boys up in my Chief, something I will forever regret. But as I wrote earlier in this journal, several years ago, I asked myself a key question: if I had a friend my age, who had my health issues and limitations, would I let him/her take my grandsons flying. My answer was “no,” and that sealed my decision to sell the plane and retire from flying as PIC. Maybe my daughter-in-law’s thinking wasn’t that far from mine. All that said, I agree that most people are not good at risk assessment, often obsessing over small risks (1 flight in a well-maintained airplane on a calm day) and ignoring larger risks (e. g., letting a 16 yr old borrow Dad’s Mustang GT for a double date).

    • This is funny, because it’s so true: “I agree that most people are not good at risk assessment, often obsessing over small risks (1 flight in a well-maintained airplane on a calm day) and ignoring larger risks (e. g., letting a 16 yr old borrow Dad’s Mustang GT for a double date).”

  • I regularly fly Young Eagles flights. The risks are understood and agreed to. Without risk society stagnates. I take as many folks flying as I can to share the aviation experience. Nobody goes if they don’t want to…

    • I agree – I choose not to micromanage risks – not really a world I want to live in. Nor do I want my children or grandchildren to live in a culture where they never grow or experience anything because it was ruled out by risks.

  • I’m 66 and in great physical shape and have been flying for 12 years but have not been able to take the grandkids up. What hurts is that in just one morning I took 14 kids of all ages flying as Young Eagles. They had a blast and a memory of a lifetime. I did not deem their parents as reckless or irresponsible.

    As I am approaching retirement, I am seriously thinking of getting rid of the 172 and hanging it all up. I curse those Disney movies where the kids just flock to grandpa’s hangar and jump into his old Stearman for a fun flight.

    —- sigh —-

    • DON’T hang it up Mike! You’re 66 yo, in great shape, with 12 years experience, you need to keep moving and stay sharp (mentally).

      So many people male/female die from a lack of movement and not tasking their brain daily. (Nope, I’m not a scientist or a doctor, just an opinion from my perspective of us as we grow old). It seems that we work, we think and we play for years; employing our brains and muscles each day of those passing years, and then we retire and stop. Stop! Stop working, stop thinking and stop playing, our bodies are trying to understand what’s happening and responds by shutting things down (in my opinion) in our bodies, and thus begins the downward spiral, Including: more weight gain, weakened immune system, increased doctors appointments, prescribed medications, bone degeneration, and many other resulting in a decline in health and usually an early death.

      Suggestion/s; if you’re a CFI, volunteer to teach flight or ground school a couple of hours a week to young people, share your knowledge and experience to less experienced pilots, write a book on your experience with suggestions, and most importantly keep your aircraft (172) until you are no longer physically able to fly.

      Maybe one or all of your grand children or another relative will take advantage of your experience in this wonderful world of aviation and aviators; and step into your awesome shoes.

      Opinionated, but Just Sayin!

      V/R
      Joseph B

  • Yes, you should take your grandkids flying. Later, you should teach them to fly, including aerobatics and UPRT. You should teach your grandkids how to build things using power tools. You should teach them to drive a stick-shift and then take them out to the track where they can learn to drive really fast in a controlled environment. After that, you should take them to the range and teach them gun safety and how to shoot.

    Kids are curious. They are going to do risky things with or without you (or their parents). We seem to think that the risk of a given activity is equal for all people but, in fact, it is not. The more training and experience you have, the less risk you experience because you reduce the threat upon which the risk is based. When we drive the risk really is fixed because it depends so much on what other people around us do. In aviation that is rarely the case. We create and manage the risks ourselves.

    Your comments about car seats are a straw man. Ok, we have learned how better to protect people in a crash because automobile accidents happen with entirely too much frequency. If you want to talk about safety equipment, I wear a headset to protect my ears, something that was unusual back in the ’60s when I learned to fly. I wear a helmet, parachute, and 7-point harness when I fly aerobatics.

    Let me wax philosophical for just a moment. As much as we hate to admit it, death is inevitable. The question is, what are we going to do while we are alive? We want to protect our children and grandchildren but if we do so to the point they can never experience anything, have we done them any favor?

    So back to your original question, yes, we should take our grandkids flying. We should show them things they can’t see or experience any other way. We should do with them the things that fill them with amazement so that they can go out and do amazing things too rather than sitting at home doing nothing … safely.

  • I learned a very valuable lesson from my late father, a gunner on B-17s in WWII. I was trying to force a decision on a purchase (corporate) and he asked:

    Do you have to make the decision now?

    Yes, I do or I loose the discount.

    And there is no way to delay this decision. They won’t extent to next month, next quarter?

    No, they are closing out their year and I have decide this week or I don’t get the deal.

    Oh, that is easy then. Tell them no.

    What?! How is that easy?

    You aren’t making the decision based on needs, facts, or your own volition. You are making the decision based on fear of loosing the discount. Whenever the decision is right now, and BASED ON FEAR, the answer is always no. Always.

    I’ve used that lesson many times since, running my own business and family and it has always served me well. I’ve never regretted saying no to any of those decisions and I’ve always tried to be conscious of my real motivation when making a decision.

    Mac, you have always been (at least in print) very considerate and thoughtful so this may be more cutting than is deserved. But at the end of the article, my impression is this question, if not this decision, is based on fear, not the facts. Because of your background you of course know the facts all too well so it is easy to rationalize your fear with facts.

    What are the statistics for pilots of your temperament and caliber? For instance, what is the fatality rate for pilots who complete the FAA wings program every year vs pilots who last did any real training in 1984? What is the fatality rate for nose gear single engine planes on EAA Young Eagle flights on pretty Saturdays vs the rate for IFR single engine aircraft flying at night? Lumping all of GA aviation, including you, into a comparison against vehicles on the road when you are freaking Mac McClellan flying your grandkids on what only meets your personal minimums where you feel safe taking them is an unfair comparison and leads me back to the original statement. You are basing this doubt on fear, rather than facts. Could you get in an accident? Yes. Could you get T boned by a dump truck on the way to the airport? Yes. Both would be soul crushing if it harmed a hair on a grandkids head.

    But what is worse is to treat them like snow flakes who can only be wrapped in bubble wrap to go outside. You can’t grow and learn if you don’t go scrape a knee, catch a cold, or even break a bone. While we don’t have grandkids, we are raising three teenagers in today’s world. We homeschool and sign them up for everything you can imagine, including flying. My son is taking lessons now. I’m terrified I’ll get a call from the airport that he is down. But I’m more terrified of the man he’ll become if I don’t let him go and live life.

    So it is ok to be more conservative IMHO when taking your grandkids flying. Only less than 10 knots and only 5k ceiling or above. Whatever makes you feel comfortable. Does that mean maybe driving to Disney instead of flying even though you could easily make the trip? Sure. But think of the flights, and the experiences, that your grand kids will get to experience with grandpa. You’ve given your professional career to aviation. Don’t rob your heirs of the experience of doing what you do and getting a memory to hang on the wall when they are adults and you are long gone.

  • Mac,
    If you have personal doubts about your capabilities as a pilot because of age or health concerns, you need to quit flying. Those on the ground beneath your aircraft aren’t safe from the “risks” you are taking either. You should have just as much concern for their personal welfare as you do your grandchildren.

    I personally will continue to fly Young Eagles and my grandchildren as long as I am physically and mentally capable. When it is time to hang up the pilot license, I pray I have enough sense to know the warning signs, my friends and family will be straightforward with me, and I will do so without hesitation. Until then, I encourage everyone including my grandchildren to live life to the fullest and go flying.
    Rick

    • Hi Rick,
      Your comments imply that only a pilot error can lead to disaster. And that’s largely true in a transport airplane where all systems are multiply redundant, there are huge performance and structural margins, and two regularly trained and checked pilots are in the cockpit.
      But in light airplanes, there are many, many possible failures that can end in a bad outcome no matter how competent the pilot.
      That’s why the decision to fly in a transport category airplane or a in a light piston are two very different risk assessments, and the topic of the discussion.
      Mac Mc

      • Mac,

        Maybe it’s time for you to move to a 172, which as Dick Collins pointed out many times has the lowest fatal accident rate following engine failure of any light aircraft. My ex-father-in-law used to fly an Apache and I had that..discussion with him many times. I finally emailed Richard directly with my recollections of his writings at FLYING and he confirmed my memories. My soon to be ex still didn’t believe it.

        I never moved up to a twin because I knew I’d never have the time or money to put into maintaining proficiency at the level I’d want, neither did I like the lack of single engine performance and handling from any twin I could possibly afford to fly.

  • Personally, I think it’s tragic that because of worry . . . no outright fear . . . maybe even paranoia, our kids today are being cheated out of so many great adventures those of us who are ancient once enjoyed.

    Once upon a long time ago, kids climbed trees and found all sorts of adventures the higher we went. We learned something about carefulness when we tried climbing without proper caution and gravity took over.

    We found adventures in the farthest reaches of the woods around our little town. We learned what can happen if you try to ride your bike down the hill without keeping the speed in control. The list of experiences that helped us grow is endless.

    Today, there is an epidemic of paranoia that has convinced too many parents that the whole world is filled with evil people behind every bush who may kidnap a kid. Heck, there’s even one bunch of far-out dingbats who have convinced many people that Democrats are cannibalizing innocent kids.

    And so we have kids growing up now who don’t know what fresh air and sunshine is (unless they’re slathered with sunscreen every 15 minutes). But they sure are good at video games and becoming obese.

    Yes, parents need to be aware of dangers and teach the kids to recognize and avoid them. My mother probably had a realistic attitude the day I had cut my hand, walked into the living room where she was reading to my little brother and sister and she said, “Stop bleeding on the carpet. Go bleed in the bathroom.”

    I really believe that the tendency to try to “protect” kids from any possible harm when they are young plays a big role in the increase of young adults who get into “sports” that lead them into foolish actions like jumping off a skyscraper without a reserve parachute or free climbing a towering cliff.

    No, we shouldn’t ignore dangers. Teach the kids about them and how to keep themselves safe. But be realistic.

  • There’s risk with both forms of transportation, as there is risk with getting out of bed. For a long time, I have felt and still feel far safer in the airplane. With all of the speeding, tailgating, and distracted driving I run into every single trip in the car, I don’t see how anyone could arrive at any other conclusion.

  • Our only condition when flying family is that all the children from one family cannot fly together in grandpa’s Piper Archer. This will preserve some sort of family continuity. As far as risk goes, my six year old grandson just recently soloed as a paraglider pilot. Flying with grandpa is one of the least risky things that this high adventure family does!

  • A thought provoking article. I agree with the spirit of it and understand the second point. I’m a pilot and grandmother of indeterminate years and have had much experience with grandkid issues. I do find that I was/am much more cautious with my grands. After all, they aren’t mine and I want to return them in good shape. But the issue I very much disagree with is the complete risk averse attitude of the current generation. I am NOT advocating telling the kids to go play in traffic, but I can’t wrap them in cotton wool, either. It seems to this grandma that many of the fears and “risks” of the current times are more imaginary than real. All I can say is to balance the danger averse attitude with the common sense we were born with or trained with to gain our ticket.

  • I have 2 sons and a daughter as well as 4 grandkids and counting. My daughter has flown with me and in Young Eagles and enjoyed it, and another son likely would fly with me if the opportunity presented itself. However at this point I doubt that any of the grandkids are likely to fly with me until they are adults given their parents’ views on the risks of flying small airplanes. The same probably goes for rides on the back of my motorcycle even though all 3 of my kids did that.

    For whatever reasons it seems that most folks are much more reluctant nowadays to take risks than we used to. As a pilot, I have had 2 forced landings and walked away from both although the last one totaled the airplane. I still fly because I enjoy it even though it’s ‘risky’ but I’ve come believe that one probably should not fly in small airplanes unless they really enjoy it and understand the additional risk which is probably at least comparable to riding a motorcycle. (I also totaled one motorcycle years ago.)

    Bottom line, I don’t think children can meaningfully assess risk and I’m not sure a lot of parents at Young Eagle events fully appreciate the risk either even though they sign a paper attesting to that. I’ve heard some of them say, “Oh flying is safer than the drive here”. Well, no it’s not. Flying in an airliner is safer, but not in a small airplane. In 2005, 2 children and their Young Eagles’ pilot died in an accident. Of the million plus kids that have flown in Young Eagles, that’s a very low fatality rate but I can’t help but think how I’d feel if those were my grandkids.

    • Hi Rolf,
      When assigning risks underwriters consider the frequency and the severity of an event. Frequency is how likely is a bad outcome? Severity is, if the worst happens, how bad will it be?
      That’s why high limit liability insurance costs more than hull damage coverage. An airplane getting bent, running into a hangar, being damaged by a storm, landed gear-up and so on is rather high in frequency. But the severity is limited to the insured value of the hull.
      On the other hand, a typical corporate airplane is insured for $100 to $200 million for liability. Even light piston airplanes typically have $1 million liability limits. So if there is a serious injury or fatal accident the entire limit of liability coverage is at risk. Pile up an old $20,000 Cherokee and the underwriter’s risk is just that, $20K. Kill or injure a passenger, or a person on the ground, and the entire $1 million is most likely gone.
      When it comes to fly one’s grandchildren the frequency of a bad outcome is low. But if the worst happens, the severity is almost impossible to imagine if you were the one at the controls.
      Mac Mc

    • You’ve totaled an airplane and a motorcycle? Boy, you really work your guardian angel overtime. You must otherwise be very nice to her (him?)

  • Mac, my first passengers after my PPL WERE MY 18 year old daughter and my 13 year old son. My wife (who doesn’t fly) reminded me that I had it all in the plane with me.

    Now my daughter, who loves to fly with me, has stated that our grand daughter can fly with grandpa when we can get her a valid seat in the 1979 Piper Dakota.

    I am fine with that for all the reasons you state.

    Thanks for the piece.

  • I started flying in 1969 and have flown our children and grandchildren without any consternation. I have had far more “close calls” on the highway than I have ever had in an airplane. Our youngest granddaughter started flying at the age of 3 and has loved every minute of it. She even insisted on a flight to fly in the clouds, so we picked a nice IMC day and flew some approaches to accommodate that request. I agree with another poster here, that when fear is the motivation to do or not do something then there is something seriously wrong with the calculus. We have flown their friends on occasion with their parents consent. My job as a pilot is to manage the risks involved. I do that in all the usual ways, constant and timely maintenance, proper preflight inspection, preflight planning and proper attention to my personal well being. On the other hand, I am concerned that the article seems to advocate an almost gruesome litany of the catastrophic disasters which can attend flying. I don’t see the need to “scare to death” someone and then ask them if they really want to do this.

  • Provocative Article! Count this 76 year old in that takes his Great Grandchildren flying every chance that I get. My Dad took me when I was 4 years old and have been flying ever since, taking my kids, their kids and now my grandkids. Of course one of my kids is a CFI and grandkids are pilots as well.

    The only problem I have with your article is that you attempt to measure risk and we do that many times a day – mostly subconsciously – as in the car driving as suggested. I drive a car like the “old man” that I am; and am completely amazed at the reckless driving habits and ignorance of road that I see every day – putting people at risk all around me.

    One can only measure the risk that they are aware of – and that is very subjective. Most of the risks we take we are not aware of, and does that mean we should stay at home and hide? Of course not, and we measure risk/reward and much is learned from looking at it that way. The flying rewards are great and far out weigh any well managed risks.

  • Yes, you should take your grandkids flying. The accident statistics that make light general aviation aircraft as dangerous as motorcycles tend to be ones from flights that prudent grandparents wouldn’t take their grandchildren on anyway. Make the flights great experiences for them that they will remember long after you’re gone.

    Who knows, by the time they’re old enough to be pilots, it might be illegal to fly an airplane outside of little 3D sandboxes, kept away from the air transport routes flown by robots who all have the first name Garmin.

  • Thanks Mac for your always thoughtful articles. This one was timely for us. Yesterday, my daughter said, “Would you take Nelson up for an airplane ride? He looks at every airplane in the sky and points. He says “airplane”. I think he would love to go up in your airplane.” Of course I would! My son, on the other hand, has not requested a flight for his daughter. So far, I have not suggested it – though I would like to. Different parents from the same family have different norms.

  • As a student pilot preparing a checkride (and only in these for the love of aviation and not a career), I found this article to be yet another discouraging take on GA flying. It makes it seem like GA is so incredibly dangerous. Well is it or isn’t it?! I want to be comfortable with the instruction I’ve received and the resources available to me and make good decisions. Risk is ALWAYS there isn’t it? This makes me scared now to fly my own children.
    Good pilots understand weather, they know and understand their airplane, they are constantly learning and practicing, they understand and have a healthy respect for proficiency based on the conditions. That’s how we mitigate and manage risk. Not just by saying we won’t fly at all or allow a grandchild to fly with us. If that’s the case, then let’s say no to roller coasters and walks after dark and driving cross country by car or allowing a child to drive alone under age 25.

    I’m tired of people making GA seems so scary. It’s discouraging for me as a student pilot and makes me rethink what I’m even doing.

  • “ For better, or maybe worse, it’s not 1980 anymore.“

    To that statement, I say, so?

    Nothing in this article really has changed for me since then or since 1969 when I received my Private Pilot Certificate. The risk to me in 1969 or 1980 or 2020 is the same. If it does change and becomes unacceptable to fly myself or any of my 4 grandkids, I‘all retire from PIC.

    If it’s ok for the parents of Young Eagles or my daughters and son-in-laws, flying offers so much to these young people that if they want, let’s go.

    • PS.

      I made a forced landing back a long time ago after an engine failure with my 2 year old daughter and wife who was 6 months pregnant with my second daughter.

      All of the including the new daughter flew extensively with me after that without concern.

  • Seems like, if the kids ask to go for a flight and you feel that you personally are not going to be in unreasonable danger, decision made. More complication than that is counterproductive. Does it matter how old you are?
    If the parents think they have to be a part of the decision, wish them well and don’t go. Maybe they will enjoy having the kids living in the basement for the rest of their lives.

  • “But that was 40 years ago. And much has changed—actually, almost everything has changed—when it comes to risk assessment for young children.”

    Really? I think not. Very little has changed except that, as a society, we have become incredibly self indulgent and thus incredibly risk averse. And yes, there are a few new technologies available in terms of things like crash-worthiness and containment than there were back in the glorious 1950’s. But don’t forget that medical capabilities have also increased, and an injury that would have been fatal in the 50’s is much more likely to be recoverable today.

    The airplanes have changed, for the better in terms of survivability, but only for the rich. Those of us who cannot afford close to a mil for a lifestyle enhancement must still cling to that same airplane of 40 (or more likely 60+) years ago; which, if well maintained, is still as safe as it was (or was not) back then.

    My point is that, when you look closely, very little has changed. Airplanes still crash for the same reasons at this level of aviation – the principal reason being that we have, among our licensed ranks, a not inconsiderable number of idiots. If we could somehow remove from the accident data the handiwork of this group, I would imagine that we would find that the record, for those who approach flying seriously, take training and perhaps a checkride or review annually, practice risk assessment and management, respect weather, learn new technology, and in general act like professional pilots all of the time, would be at least as good as driving.

    Of course there are risks. But we must look to ourselves and our attitudes as the first step toward evaluating those risks. Just because GA has a certain percentage of pilots negatively affecting our accident statistics, that does not mean we cannot make OUR flights as safe as a drive in the car.

    • A thought provoking article, well written. HOWEVER, if one has a really good instructor and that person teaches the 5 P’s…..their risk taking is always considered even if the pilot is so used to following the 5 P’s, it’s automatic. My husband just Friday night 10/09/2020 at his QB meeting received the Master Pilot Award from the FAA…..no accidents in the 50+ years of flying, teaching in gliders and power, giving rides for EAA to young children, and his own grandkids and towing gliders, all risky, if you buy into the fear aspect of flying. The 5 Ps are: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance! We both live by that saying now in our 80’s! I never had an accident either, flew a lot of 4-H kids and control tower operators in my sailplane years ago.
      So, there are pilots with great experience that are very qualified to take passengers, no matter the age. I was 2 when my Dad received his PPL, sitting on my mother’s lap was so much fun. That was 1939 at the Santa Monica Airport….
      For us, the current generation has been taught to not engage in any activity unless you have a helmet, knee pads, etc., you get the picture. I was a young pilot, now living long enough to have experienced life to its fullest…..I never thought I would crash, quite the opposite, I loved to fly and so did my husband but we had really good instructors. Educating young parents about flying and all the things you need to know before ever suggesting a flight, might help. No one ever in our family was afraid of flying…..we go way back. My uncle’s license was signed by Oroville Wright!

  • I no longer fly, so I’m looking at this issue retroactively. A child has two sets of grandparents. Before taking your grandchild up for a flight, you might consult with the other set of grandparents to get their assessment of your risk/reward calculation. You’re going to have to answer to them if something does wrong.

  • It’s interesting to consider this in the larger context of today’s world, where the SARS-COV-2 pandemic has upended everything and brought everyone face to face with cost-benefit calculations. With respect to the coronavirus, we could end the pandemic if we locked everyone in their homes for a few months. Reportedly the CCP did that in Wuhan. Many people starved to death, but mission accomplished.
    The response here has been slightly less draconian, though NYC has been destroyed not by the disease but by the cure, likely for at least a generation.

    We old timers remember joyful childhoods filled with tree-climbing, helmetless bike riding, playing outside without the remotest thought of child predators on the hunt, car rides in the front passenger seat that were our best one-on-one time with a Dad who worked too much, rides standing untethered in the bed of a truck, so much more. Today’s bubble-wrapped, helicopter-parented kids may be at slightly less risk, but their lives are so much poorer for it, and their soaring rates of depression and even suicide are one result.

    Being born carries a 100% guarantee of eventual death. A life spent in fear, trying to avoid dying, will still end in death, and will be much less rich and joyful along the way. To pass the magical and precious gift of flight on to new generations is to make the entire human experience better. Be conscientious and careful, always. Be sure the parents give fully informed consent. And then, whether your grandkids or someone else’s, open a child’s eyes to this wonderful world.

  • A lot has been said about risk vs. reward. 15 years ago we took our 3 year old granddaughter flying several times, always nice days in our 172. Today she doesn’t remember the flights. Recently we took our 15 year old grandson flying, as he is thinking of joining AFROTC in college. It was the best experience of his life (he says). Let’s make sure they are going flying for the right reason, not to give grandpa something to talk about.

  • I made my first flight with my great uncle when I was 6 years old in a Champ and later on in his Cub. If someone would get me to the grass strip, I knew I would get a ride. That was the spark that ignited my interest in becoming a pilot. I know, as he knew back then, the risks associated with flying. We have 18 grandchildren and almost all, but the ones under 8, have been for a ride with grandpa. The weather has to be CAVU with moderate temperatures and light winds or they don’t go. Some have expressed a desire to get a pilots license when they’re old enough because they’ve been “bitten” by the bug. One grandson has joined the Civil Air Patrol and one will be joining in 3 months with the goal of becoming pilots.

    I agree with many that there are risks in everything we do and in all situations we try to minimize them as much as possible. We can’t protect them from everything 100% and flying sets a good example for them to not take extra risks if they don’t have to. When they ask to fly and the weather is not good, I tell them no and why it’s a no go day. My hope is they see me being reserved on the risk so they will follow in my path as they grow.

  • I’m 82 and learnt to fly when I was 72. I fly under NZ CAA microlight rules (not above habitations or gatherings). I can’t fly passengers at all (unless they are also pilots) due to a minor stroke some years ago. Until then I flew anyone who wanted to. I’m a (long-retired) statistician, and I know that in the air it’s mainly the pilot who causes the accident; on the road it’s very likely to be the OTHER driver. Frequency counts, too – how does the cumulative risk of accident in a lifetime of car trips several times a day, compare with the risk of accident in the occasional, careful, small plane flight? And don’t discount ‘fender-benders’: they are never recorded for cars but even a no-damage emergency landing gets into the tabulations for light aircraft. Nothings is without risk but it’s unhelpful to take numbers outside of their full context! In my ten years of flying I have run up 1200 hours – does that make me a high hours or a low hours pilot? Context, context, context!

  • Take ’em flying now while you can. How much private, General Aviation flying is there in countries like Venezuela, Norway, Georgia? If the democrats win the election and get their way in Washington over the next few years there won’t BE any General Aviation flying at all. So you won’t have to ponder the answer this question.

  • I’ll agree with most of the comments. Take em flying! The only ones that would have a say so, should be their parents. And if you took you kid flying enough, like you should have, they would have a positive attitude, and hope their spouse does, too.

    As for risk, I’m against a “double standard” What’s good for me is good for ANYONE that wants to fly with me. However, I NEVER try to force someone to fly and there are some people that I won’t take up at all. And, I generally don’t take other peoples kids up without their parent explicit unconditional YES.

    Unfortunately our society is training the kids to be non thinkers, uneducated, robots that only do what they want, which is often nothing but text….. and then as they grow up, riot and make demands.

    We no longer have anywhere close to the freedom and opportunities we had years ago. As this country continues, GA will be long gone in the not to distant future. Take them while it’s still here.

    And, for the most part, there’s not a huge difference in safety today as there was years ago. If you want to be a safe pilot, just don’t be stupid.

  • What a great article. Besides flying, I love scuba diving, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and track days in my corvette, so my risk aversion is clearly out of wack. Risk/reward is what it’s about. Each person must decide this for them selves.

    Your article does cast a shadow on the EAA Young Eagles program. Parents or guardians must sign off on the flights, but do they understand that their children are at a higher risk than in the car driving to the airport. How does light aircraft flight compare in risk to local carnival rides, or bungie jumping, or zip lines? It’s all back to risk/reward. I guess you could bring your calculator before you try anything new.

  • Risk management! I have driven many interstates in many states, and flown combat in UH-60’s. The risk is as real in one as the other. I recal bullets going through the floor of the Blackhawk between my feet, as much as I recall speaking with the brain surgeon that saved me after an accident involving a motorcycle and a car. That combination of events managed to teach me that care and concerns are real in everything we want to do, or undo. I saw the photos of my bike and equiptment I wore on me at the accident site, and gathered that we are partialy responsible for all the results. We should never carry the thinking that we are victims, but rather feel the responsibility for 100% of everything we do or not want to do. Caution is never a waste of effort or time.

  • A lot of comments here about risk associated with the aircraft in flight. One would think that at some point a pilot themselves becomes the major element of risk due to some health issue, lack of currency, or some other issue. I read one of Mac’s primary points to be just that. I encourage you to read Hunter Heath’s journal article on why he gave up flying as PIC where he evaluated his health and other factors and made the appropriate decision. I am more inclined to think the risk of flight is somewhat mitigated if the pilot meets some reasonable standards themselves. Pilots that ignore health warning signs, or lack currency, or are still given to excessive risk taking for themselves, should think twice when considering taking others for flights. I recently turned 74, and have had 3 heart stents, but no heart attacks or damage. I no longer feel comfortable being PIC without another qualified pilot on board even though I still meet FAA medical and flight requirements. We pilots need to always be honest with ourselves when considering the risk we are willing take especially when others are depending on us, be it with family or not.

  • Mac, very well said. When I was younger I only took my own children up for one or two rides each. I only flew with my wife by my side once or twice while we were raising children. Aviation is always about risk assessment, risk avoidance, a safety culture. I made the decision that my passion wasn’t worth the risk to those I loved. I wanted my children to have a parent that loved them should anything happen.

    Flying is always an optional hobby bordering on a lifelong obsession, but never something I absolutely needed to do for business or travel. It is not something that involves putting risk to others. This article comes on the heels of a podcast about recent high increases in insurance premiums for older pilots, as our population starts to age out. Older pilots simply have higher risks. I’m 66 and am looking at ramping up my RC models in the next two years, if the FAA doesn’t outlaw flying RC first. Even the Champ at my home field is now renting for $125 hr/wet. Which leads to this sad conclusion:

    Young Eagles is great, but face it, personal income is a wall young people can’t climb over right now. Giving them rides is wonderful, but most young people will not earn that level of income to afford it as young adults. I count myself as one of the last generations who could learn to fly on a smaller income. A new 1965 Cessna 150 when I got the bug was the about same price as a new Chevy Corvette. Expensive, but not the cost of a house. It has gone up. Same goes for the cost of parts, repairs, inspections, tie downs and all the other things go into ownership. We have a different economic stratus of pilots now. Those middle class dreamers walking the ramp to look at airplanes are gone, as is the whole middle class. High school teachers, construction workers, people who could drive a 20 year old car and use the savings to fly. . . slowly left the hobby. I see it in the EAA movement and the death of plans built airplanes that you could put together on a budget over time. Without those middle income folks supporting aviation with their sheer numbers, the European model of private flying is the next way point on our course.

    So taking children up for a ride? For fun, managing the risks we should never deny or call fake news, but we not do so to increase the pilot population in the future. I know I had the bug even before the first flight. So Mac, never apologize for lowering your risks. And lowering them for the most precious things in life. Their future is going to be different. We have been blessed with wings in this time and place. It’s hard to see how that will continue in the next twenty years, even if we hop all the rides we can. The best selling LSA is the most expensive one. Ponder what that means to the dreams of our grandchildren.

  • There is risk in every activity of life. Training and experience are used to mitigate the risk so that one can have the reward of that risk – the spectacular view, the freedom of travel, the bag of groceries, a paycheck, etc. If one can no longer manage the risk of flying then its time to stop. It doesn’t matter who is on board.

  • The greatest risk to flying now is the billboard injury attorney. Long story but I just finished a 3 year nightmare, my daughter and her friend were with me at the airport, the friend rolled out of a golf cart my daughter was driving and bumped her head. Not hurt worse than if she fell on the playground. The parents sued me, the city and the airport. My insurance company initially would not cover, then did, then filed a federal suit against me along with city and the airport. Insurance eventually paid, the billboard attorney got 80% of the settlement, the girl got a payment that will be deferred for 10 years (to keep the money out of the parents hands). It cost me 85K out of pocket to defend myself. Every asset you own is at risk in this situation including your home and retirement savings. We are now living in an environment where people look at Contingency injury attorneys like a free lottery ticket. I only fly solo now and don’t bring anyone through the fence.

  • Good article, I find myself thinking about the same. I initially took my daughters for their first flight when they were about 6 weeks old. I did the same with my grandsons but had another pilot on board. I take my grandsons flying but also have someone that can fly the airplane with us.
    My reason for the precaution is my Father flew in an Aztec, with my 4 year old nephew, for a visit in 1980. Four days after that visit my Father had a TIA, I always wondered what would have happened if he had the TIA while flying with my nephew?

  • I’m seventy years old had my single engine license since 1977. Two years ago my only grand child asked his father (my son) & mother if he could learn to fly. they approached me about it and of course I said it would be fine with me as long as they realize the risk.
    I’m not a instructor but he flew with and became aware of the risks also, I then put him with a instructor and picked up the tab and supplied my aircraft for instruction. He has soloed and should get his private license this month at age 17.

    A little over a month ago he had a inflight emergency the throttle stuck open at about 2200 RPM while doing Touch n Go’s. He made a couple of circling maneuvers, called ATC said he had a emergency, a certified instructor who is also commercial pilot overheard the call. They had some discussion and he had a lot of practice with power off 180’s made his base turn and killed the engine. All went well, made the runway, landed and gave me a call.

    I was concerned when I received the call and relieved that it went well but concerned that his parents may stop his flying, They knew he has plans to fly commercial and wouldn’t interfere with his career choice, and knew that he took his instruction and flying seriously. My thoughts are wish we all had a chance to plan for all things that can go wrong in life, but in flying we do have procedures to prepare us for most of our emergency’s.

  • The decision to fly is always a risk management decision. Risk is evaluated taking probability and severity (consequence) into consideration. Although the risk of an incident flying with my granddaughter is low, the severity can be quite high. I will not expose my granddaughter to the risk of flying until she is an age that can make the risk decision on her own. I hope I am still flying by whatever age that may be.

  • You obviously DON’T live where there are “Lime Green Scooters” for rent on every corner. Just last week I saw one of these things zipping through the park (speed limit 15 mph) at or slightly above the speed limit. The scooter was somewhat under the control of a kid about 12, and hanging onto the handlebar stem (from the front of the scooter) was a kid I’d guess was around four. Lotsa parents with kids were around. I even saw a few City Park employees. And I saw no reaction except acceptance. Every year there’s a parade or two through the city center. Every year since Lime Green scooters became a summer fixture I see kids (7 years old?? and older) weaving among the crowd.

    Now, THAT’s risk acceptance at a very high level.

    However, is it any more risky that a mom who has their precious strapped in a car seat in the back negotiating a freeway on ramp while turning around to deal with a cranky youngster behind her? Seen that too.

  • And with this article I end my pursuit of GA (for now). I’ve been struggling with this concept (risk management), and I realize for recreational/personal travel, without a more compelling mission for now, it just doesn’t make sense that invest the time a $$ to pursue GA. I soloed just before COVID shut things down, and have not restarted lessons. I’m going to pause for now and I may revisit GA in the future.

  • A couple I know asked me to take their young teenager for a flight. They said he was too timid and afraid to take any risks. They thought exposing him to something he would be nervous about but enjoy in the end would help him get over his nervousness about other activities. The flight went well, he was nervous at first but enjoyed it. I don’t know if it changed his life but I hope it did. Risk/reward balance is difficult to determine but we all have to do it.

  • Absolutely! Take ‘em flying when they are old enough! I’m 83 yo now, with a couple of thousand hours TT. Started when I was 16 yo.
    When that kid sits in the rh seat – perhaps on a necessary pillow – and handles the controls…. what an internal boost in self that generates! I gave Young Eagle flights and CAP cadet orientation flights up to two years ago. I’d do it now (if my knees felt better)!
    And when a daughter needed an emergency flight across the state??? Yes to that, too!
    There is little better than sharing the delight…

  • I have 13 grandchildren and I fly to them. I never ask anyone to fly always just say in passing if you ever want to go up let me know. Some have many don’t. I use the same approach with my children and grandchildren. In fact I am uncomfortable driving my grandies even though I never had an accident in 44 years, just me.

  • I still fly professionally for a living, and engage in risk mitigation on every flight. My kids have grown up flying with me in an airplane, and fought over who would be the first to get a grandkid up with me.
    If you are afraid of your own limitations and health issues, find someone you trust and get them to take your grandkids flying.
    Flying hasn’t gotten any more dangerous in 40 years, it has gotten safer, if anything. Depriving your grandkids of the experiences you and your kids had, out of fear, serves little.
    Just my .2$

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