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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Pick your partner

Maintaining instrument proficiency is made easier through FAR 91.109, which allows pilots to practice instrument procedures in visual conditions with a safety pilot. Selecting the right safety pilot for the flight can be a difficult decision, however.

On January 14, 2001, a Cessna 210 crashed during a simulated instrument approach at night to Burnet Municipal Airport in Burnet, Texas. The instrument-rated pilot and his noninstrument-rated safety pilot were seriously injured; the airplane was destroyed.

The pilots left Burnet at 8:45 p.m. en route to Austin, Texas. After practicing instrument approaches at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, they flew back to Burnet. The pilot in command stayed under the hood and prepared to fly the GPS approach to Runway 1 at Burnet. Radar data recorded the flight passing the initial approach fix at 3,500 feet. The airplane descended and was at 2,200 feet about 1 nm before reaching the final approach fix, ABJES (now FINTI), which has a published crossing altitude of 2,600 feet. At ABJES, the pilot lowered the flaps and landing gear and continued the descent.

According to the safety pilot, he had the runway in sight when they crossed the final approach fix. He then lost sight of the runway and was about to tell the pilot to pull up when the accident occurred. The flight hit trees and the ground nearly four nautical miles from the threshold of Runway 1.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the pilot's failure to maintain the proper glide path during a practice instrument approach, which caused the aircraft to strike terrain. Factors included the dark night and the safety pilot's inadequate monitoring of the practice approach.

The pilot in command, who had completed an instrument rating four months before the accident, had 274 hours' total time, 44 of which were simulated instrument flight. The safety pilot had 710 hours' total time, but his instrument experience was not reported.

It is a safe assumption that this was one of the pilot's first instrument flights after taking his checkride. The pilot had limited instrument experience, and he chose a noninstrument-rated safety pilot. Before departing on a training flight such as this, establish safety parameters. Brief noninstrument-rated pilots on the approaches that will be conducted and explain to them each segment of the approach, including the descent minimums.

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation has created numerous resources related to instrument flying. Find them online.

Kristen Hummel manages the GA accident database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.

By Kristen Hummel

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