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Training Tip: Pilots and trustTraining Tip: Pilots and trust

It’s hard to piece together exactly what happened up there, but as the story was related to me years later by the passenger, a flight that started out as a pleasure ride with a pilot friend fell fearfully apart after the individual flying decided to have a little “fun” at her expense.

Aviation pays a price when a single pilot abuses their privilege of introducing nonpilots to flight. Pilots should remember that safe, precise flying is thrilling enough for their nonpilot passengers. Photo by Christopher Rose.

Her fright at the unexpected and extreme maneuvering came through vividly as she shared the experience, and it was obviously not the first time she had recounted it, leaving me to wonder how many times the story—and the impression it created about pilots—had been spread around.

Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard for a flight instructor, but hearing nonpilots’ scary stories about rides in “small planes” is not as unusual as I wish it were. This time I did what I have done before, explaining that hers was an atypical experience, and that she as a passenger should have been treated with more regard and respect. I have tried, I said, to instill in my own flight students an understanding that safe, precise flying is thrilling enough to a nonpilot passenger. Theatrics are discouraged; responsible pilots don’t sit around hatching ways to frighten their friends.

Not all such stories require an intervention. It pays to listen carefully to what is being said to try to separate the reckless rides from those given by pilots who simply may have had to respond to an emerging scenario. As an example, another passenger’s story of a departure from a coastal airport that “nearly put us in the clouds” may have been perfectly legal and orderly, despite a dramatic telling. CFIs, take note that more discouraging were several stories told by past student pilots who took a lesson or two but quit after the instructor did something of the clowning-around variety that destroyed their confidence in those of us who teach. One person said he assumed all instructors do things like that. Embarrassing.

Aviation pays a price when someone in a position of trust can’t resist the urge to take gratuitous risks. If you have ever invited someone to fly with you and the individual has declined without explanation, perhaps an experience like those described underlies the refusal.

It is a joy to introduce nonpilots to aviation and give them a memory that will last a lifetime. Once you earn that privilege, don't abuse it. Word gets around.

Can pilots discourage the irresponsible few from performing scary antics with passengers? Share your thoughts at AOPAHangar.com.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilots, Loss of Control, Flight Planning
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