It’s been said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Human nature is to resist change, but adaptation is vital for the existence of a species—even pilots.
In October 2015, I participated in a panel discussion at the NTSB’s Loss of Control Forum that centered on the fact that loss of control in its various forms results in nearly half of all fatal accidents in general aviation. More troubling is that this statistic hasn’t changed much. Technology can make advances to safety over time, but what can we do now? The answer is simple: training.
GA flight training is stuck in the 1970s. Training should evolve and address historically proven accident causal factors: The takeoff, climb, and landing phases of flight, along with loss of control (see the Joseph T. Nall Report), are the “percentage threats.” Modern flight training concepts such as energy management, critical decision making, personal minimums, angle-of-attack awareness, risk management, and stabilized approaches are mentioned in passing or not at all in the FAA’s Private Pilot Practical Test Standards, Airplane Flying Handbook, and Aeronautical Information Manual.
Another example: The Airplane Flying Handbook continues to teach a “box” pattern. One could argue that if you were to devise a plan to make an approach unstable—with multiple configuration changes and constant changes in bank, all while low to the ground—it might look very similar to the legacy box pattern. After the NTSB forum, the University of North Dakota and the AOPA Air Safety Institute decided to team up and study the value of a circular pattern to achieve more stabilized approaches.
There has been significant progress on other fronts as well. Type clubs increasingly are becoming the de facto experts in flight training, and we’ve seen safety innovations within type communities. Jeff Edwards, a doctoral student and president of the Lancair Owners and Builders Organization, recently completed a comprehensive study that shows pilots who belong to type clubs and participate in structured training are two to eight times less likely to be involved in an accident than pilots in the same type of aircraft who don’t.
Two examples of type clubs that have made improvements within their respective pilot communities are the American Bonanza Society (ABS) and the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA).
“ABS pioneered type-club-based pilot training over 30 years ago with the Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program,” said ABS’ Tom Turner. “BPPP’s emphasis is on teaching airplane systems and the flight characteristics of the specific model of Beechcraft a pilot flies.” A BPPP flight includes three to four hours of personalized instruction. “We ensure each pilot comes away from training better than he/she was before, regardless of that pilot’s total experience.”
ABS recently began training instructors “how to teach Beech” through the ABS Flight Instructor Academy. “Our goal is to ensure that no matter where a Beechcraft pilot goes for their training, they have access to a flight instructor who teaches the lessons we’ve learned in over three decades of type-specific instruction,” Turner said.
COPA also recognized the benefit of proficiency programs. “Early on, COPA recognized the need for more effective training in a new aircraft model with innovative safety features,” said COPA’s Rick Beach. “Every Cirrus has an autopilot, GPS navigator, multifunction display, and airframe parachute.” COPA adapted the Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program from the Bonanza program and created the Critical Decision Making seminar. “Yet, we saw persistent fatal accidents and infrequent use of the airframe parachute system. So, COPA analyzed all of the Cirrus accident investigation reports, looking for further interventions....Training changed to emphasize the use of all of the safety features. Over the past five years, Cirrus fatal accidents declined steadily to less than one-third of the GA fatal accident rate,” Beach said.
The next time you’re due for training, make the most of it. Join a type club, fly with an instructor familiar with your airplane, and be sure to discuss the things accident data tell us are areas of risk. Understanding concepts such as energy management, angle-of-attack awareness, and stabilized approaches supports safety.
The GA community should follow the example set by the safest type clubs and commit to continual training. To that end, “training for safety” is becoming a more significant part of what the AOPA Air Safety Institute emphasizes. Recently we released the first in a series of videos, Margins of Safety, that discusses loss of control prevention. I encourage pilots to look at it and other resources in the Takeoffs and Landings Safety Spotlight. Fly like you train; train like you fly!
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George Perry is senior vice president of the AOPA Air Safety Institute and a member of the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association.