Safety Publications/Articles

The $1,000 question

If you think that teaching flying involves just passing along the aerodynamic facts, think again. Your goal is teaching students to not just fly, but fly safely, which means you must also be a teacher of judgment, vision, and values.

One way I do this is with the $1,000 question. There are many important values that pilots need to internalize. One is that human life is always more important than airplanes, and insurance companies would much prefer paying for bent metal than deceased people.

Putting human safety first means, for example, not stretching an engine-out glide in an effort to make a runway while overflying safe landing spots. But how do you help a student understand this concept?

I ask, "What's the most expensive airplane you will ever fly?" After they talk about Learjets and maybe even commercial aircraft, I tell them the correct answer-about $1,000, the typical insurance deductible. This creates an "ah ha" moment, a swift and sure understanding that the economic equation isn't what they thought it was. In an instant, you have imparted vision and changed a value. You've been a runway Socrates.

When do I ask the $1,000 question? You'll make the biggest impact when the student is on an emotional high, such as after he's just soloed, completed his first cross country, or passed a knowledge test. That is when a lesson on values has sticking power.

There are lots of $1,000 questions. Think about them, and ask them. You'll be creating safer pilots.

By Rod Machado

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