Just what do you owe your students? Have they hired your instructors to help them pass a particular test, or did they come to “learn to fly” in some broader sense? Is a pilot’s education complete if it begins and ends at the airport fence? Do any of those answers change if the student’s view of what he or she is buying doesn’t align with yours?
Those are all tough questions, not made any easier by either the economics of the industry or the pitiless laws of physics. Much as you might want to transform all primary students into exquisitely qualified aviators, there are limits to both what they’ll be willing to pay for and what you can afford to supply for free. Once all required maneuvers have settled comfortably within practical test standards tolerances, it’s natural for them to want to move ahead with the checkride—but few if any CFIs (or NTSB investigators) would argue that knowing enough to pass the checkride guarantees that a new pilot can safely exercise those hard-earned privileges. And airmanship is only the beginning. Recently we had another heartbreaking reminder of the fact that pilot-in-command responsibility can extend a long way from the aircraft itself.
The January 2 crash of a Piper Seneca in rural Kentucky got a great deal of national attention, primarily because the sole survivor, the family’s 7-year-old daughter, walked three-quarters of a mile through thickets and forest at night to reach the nearest house. Mentioned in passing was the fact that she did so in a T-shirt and shorts, no shoes, and one sock—hardly ideal for mid-winter hiking.
At this point, we don’t know whether she had warmer clothing at hand and didn’t or couldn’t retrieve it, or whether the entire family was still dressed for Key West, trusting the airplane’s heater to keep them warm all the way home. We do know that at the moment she crawled out of the wreckage, she wasn’t dressed for the weather, and presumably hadn’t been for the duration of the flight. Some reports suggest that her father, the pilot, had given his daughters some survival training, but it would appear that he hadn’t had the family prepare for the possibility of an off-airport landing before they left the ground. That, of course, would have been the time to do it. With your hands full trying to manage an in-flight emergency, there’s not much time or attention to spare for making sure everyone puts on their warm clothes and shoes.
Many of us habitually make cross-country flights over inhospitable terrain without giving a second thought to what we’d need to survive an extended stay in that country. Enduring more than a few hours in a landscape that’s exceptionally cold, hot, wet, or dry poses significant risks to the continued union of body and soul, even if you’re lucky enough to escape serious post-crash injuries. Dressing for the country you’re crossing rather than the one you’re leaving or arriving in is only the first step—a crucial first step, but no more. Managing those contingencies well in advance of any hint of trouble is a dimension of PIC responsibility that is hardly addressed by traditional flight training curricula.
The Air Safety Institute has collaborated with the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association and the Donner Canadian Foundation to begin addressing this gap. A Safety Advisor and accompanying video—both entitled Survive: Beyond the Forced Landing—lay out flight planning tactics that maximize the chance of being rescued alive after an off-airport landing as well as offering practical tips on what to do and how to marshal available resources to stay as healthy and comfortable as possible in the meantime. Beyond the specifics, they’ll challenge readers to assume a broader view of PIC responsibility that encompasses all the possible consequences of a flight, not just the conduct of one that goes as planned.
You don’t need to be a donor or member of AOPA, COPA, or the Donner Foundation to benefit from this effort. Both versions are free to everyone who’s interested. We’d suggest encouraging your instructors to incorporate these insights into their lessons on flight planning, and your students to reflect on what they’ll owe their eventual passengers. It won’t cost you or them a penny. We’ve already done the work. You might as well reap the rewards.