Focussed Flying-Who's a hazard to whom

By Johan Lottering


A classic misconception in General Aviation is the margin of safety added by the so-called safety pilot - typically an accomplished instructor on the way up.


In practice an insurance underwriter might, instead of declining a proposal, when a far too inexperienced pilot has acquired a far too demanding plane or helicopter, accept a risk under special conditions. A more advanced pilot or instructor may be required to fly along for an initial number of hours. Some owners abuse this leniency which gives a false sense of security in which macho attitudes can prevail, simply because the junior pilot 'ain't afraid anymore'.


Another important safety principle is overlooked: The professional relationship between informal crew members in terms of coordinating and decision-making degrading over time.


The flip-side would be the professional flying environment in multi-crew aircraft where clear-cut authority gradients and procedures exist, AND neither pilot is the owner.


A factor tipping the scales includes the inherent domineering personality traits of many aircraft owners. High-powered individuals are accustomed to taking control and imposing their will, especially on those in close proximity.


Many consider such behaviour tendencies as displays of leadership qualities. An amicable vying for control degrades performance and safety standards over time. The lower pilot's standard may well be raised, but not sufficiently whilst the more advanced pilot would lower his. The mean safety and performance levels may drop below the minimum acceptable standards with time. In the prevailing environment a false sense security is cultivated.


The NTSB has been concerned about such phenomena for long. At a convention in 2015 a safety expert, David J. Kenny of AOPA USA, was called upon to analyse Instructional Safety. He suggested "Öthat instructors should think twice before agreeing to do a flight review or refresher training in unfamiliar models, especially in one owned by the candidate".


He pointed out that in 60% of fatal fixed-wing training accidents trainees already held pilot certificates. Furthermore, despite its benign flight profile, Instrument Training produced the highest number of fatalities in proportion.


The second highest number of fatalities came from make-and-model checkouts or conversions. According to the presentation 'Who's a hazard to whom?' a CFI would be twice as likely to die in an accident involving training for an already Certificated Pilot than with a Student Pilot. 70% of fatal accidents occurred during Advanced Instruction, inferring much about the sensitive authority gradient and co-ordination levels between pilots. A CFI would be far more likely to die with a 2300 hour CPL, than a raw student. Fly safely!

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