September 1, 2013
By Rod Machado
We actually do quite well at training people to make good decisions regarding their safety. People in industries ranging from commercial aviation to the nuclear industry have made impressive improvements in their safety record over the years. Not so for general aviation.
Our fatal accident rate hasn’t improved in any significant way for the past 25 years, despite the fact that GA pilots have been taught aviation decision-making skills during this time. Were this not the case, we wouldn’t have the NTSB chairman saying, “We know the general aviation community can do much better.” So why has the GA fatal accident rate been nearly flat for a quarter of a century?
Ask yourself what the similarity is between commercial aviation, the Coast Guard, and the nuclear industry. The envelope, please.
In my opinion, organizations such as these benefit from strong group cohesion, something that’s missing from general aviation. Group cohesion is a process by which individual members of a group develop links that bond them together. It’s this collective sense of unity that helps sustain the group and inspires its members to behave in ways that are rewarded and reinforced by group membership. If the group supports a culture of safety, then individuals within the group generally strive to behave safely.
General aviation experiences very little group cohesion because it doesn’t function like a group. At least not in the sense that the association between its members is effective at inspiring the safety-oriented behaviors found in the airline or nuclear industries. We have individuals with similar interests, but group cohesion is missing. After all, we don’t have to work and/or socialize with one another. Our personal safety isn’t dependent on each other, as it is in other industries.
In my opinion, group cohesion acts to reduce accidents because it works as a check and balance on our human nature.
If you’re a student of history, then you know that human nature doesn’t bring out the best in man. Among other things, it causes him to behave impulsively, feel invulnerable, act macho, abuse his power, and resist responsible authority (among other things). Do these look familiar? They should. They’re well-established hazardous thought patterns that everyone acts upon at one time or another unless they are overridden by a good set of personal safety values. These are the same safety values that are often inspired, inculcated, and reinforced by strong group cohesion. These safety values must be learned and reinforced. They’re not part of our human nature.
AOPA Aviation Summit,
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