Aircraft accidents always leave us in shock as pilots and aviation enthusiasts. Aircraft accidents are very often serious and usually result in injury or even death. Being a small community the chances are we all know those involved in aircraft crashes, which makes it a lot worse.
The last few months have been particularly difficult as far as accidents go. We seem to go for long periods without any major incidents and then we have several all in a short space of time. A spate of accidents as we've had recently wakes us all up from our complacency and we all agree that action needs to be taken. Exactly what action we're not really sure about but we need action all the same. Some would say it's a knee jerk reaction but it isn't, any aircraft accident should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
The reason for thorough investigations is to assess the cause of the accident in order to prevent the same situation occurring again. It is important though that the investigators are interested only in preventing a similar occurrence and not apportioning blame. The sad reality of modern society is that we seek to point fingers and families of injured parties are often only interested in revenge.
The mainstream media love to tell us that the cause of an accident was the catchall, "Pilot Error" and everyone is satisfied. The reason we're all satisfied is that we believe it can't happen to us. The reason it can't happen to us is, "That guy was being an idiot, I won't make the same mistake." So many people believe that they are invincible and are incapable of making mistakes. Let us be clear though, pilot error is not a cause, merely a symptom.
Pilot error can be as a result of inadequate training or an inappropriate attitude to flying. Accidents that occur due to a loss of situational awareness, flying an aircraft too close the ground or outside its design envelope and many others are attributed to Pilot error. No pilot wants to crash and we all take off with the intention of landing safely. Given that we all want to land without incident, when that doesn't happen it is because the pilot was either incapable of handling the situation or didn't fully appreciate the consequence of their actions.
Karl Jensen made an interesting observation as we were discussing this topic. Karl believes that the general lawlessness and selfish attitude of the public at large has to rub off onto some pilots. It is a very valid point. When law and order is enforced, we question why rules exist and are aware of the consequences of contravening the particular rule. When law and order breaks down, we lose the sense of why laws exist in the first place, what the consequences of our actions are. There is a macho feeling of being a maverick, a person that thinks for him or herself, not controlled by society. People start to feel invincible.
Training is the key to solving the problem, not just ab-initio training but regular currency checks. Pilots need to be trained not only to fly the aircraft competently but also what the consequences of getting it wrong are.
Training is where I believe we have a problem in this country. My experience has not been positive in the main. Yes there are some extremely good instructors out there but there are too many with, I believe, the wrong attitude. What so many instructors appear to be in the business for is to build hours so that they can get a job with one of the airlines.
The standard route is, PPL, COM, Instructors, Build hours, join an airline. I have flown with 21-year-old CFI that was nervous of what I was doing. I have flown with others that really gave the impression that they really didn't want to be there and wanted to get the flight over with as quickly as possible. A 20 year old airline wanabee is usually not going to be too critical when doing renewal with a 40 year old alpha male with an I know it all" attitude.
One possible solution is to remove the requirement for a COM rating before an instructors rating can be obtained. I am of the opinion that the situation would be greatly improved if we had career instructors. Instructors that were doing the job because they really wanted to. Instructors with passion, not only flying but passion for passing that skill onto others.
Aircraft accidents happen for many reasons and I don't profess to have the solution to all of aviation's problems. I do believe though that whenever we climb into an aircraft we should all tell ourselves that we are not invincible and we probably have a lot more to learn. Always fly within both the aircrafts and your own capabilities.