THE RISKY MOMENTS: WHEN DECISIONS GO BAD (Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS)
Everyone who writes about aviation safety eventually comes around to the subject of risk management. Managing risks is not as simple as a checklist. Risk management can be done only through a deal the pilot makes with his/herself.
You can tell a kid a thousand times not to venture out on an apparently frozen pond, but in the end each individual has to come to a conclusion about what is risky, what is not, and what level of risk is acceptable.
Because bad decisions lead to accidents, a good understanding of the risks and of the fact that when improperly or recklessly done, flying can be extremely dangerous, is required. A strong sense of self-preservation is also a definite risk-management asset. No checklist will ever take the place of these things.
The risk is lowest when flying a well-maintained simple aeroplane on a clear and calm day. Beyond that, the risk increases. General aviation flying isn’t going to get any “safer”, but that doesn’t mean that each individual pilot can’t improve his or her personal safety potential.
The best way to learn about risks is to look at the mistakes other pilots have made and learn from them. These are chronicled in the accident reports issued by the CAA and others. In many cases it transpires that a pilot got to a point where even fancy footwork and a burst of brilliance could not save the day.
As kids we learn that “if at first you don’t succeed, try try try again”, but in aeroplanes the risk increases greatly when you do. Maybe the saying should be modified, to advise doing something more easily managed rather than simply to repeat that which got the better of you the first time.
One engine or two? There may be valid reasons for buying a twin rather than a single. They climb better, go faster, and carry more. But the riskiest part of twin flying comes when a pilot does something in a twin that he wouldn’t do in a single. All propeller aeroplanes are viewed as equals by things like weather and flight envelopes. A pilot is operating in a high-risk zone if this is not acknowledged.
Also, any thought about “buying” safety is a risky one. The Cirrus is an aeroplane you can buy with an airframe parachute fitted as standard. Yet the Cirrus fatal accident rate is no better than that of similar aeroplanes. That is no reflection on the aeroplane but it does say a lot about the risks that pilots take in the aeroplane.
An extremely risky moment comes when a pilot flies with this thought: “I think I can make it.” A basic high level of confidence is certainly required of a pilot, but overconfidence is not good. We need to know what we are doing and then do it well. If there is any doubt, don’t.
The final risky moment I’ll share with you applies to motorcycles, hot cars and power boats as well as aeroplanes. It comes when a person thinks or says, “Watch this!”