A recent article from the FAA said that the new “kinder” FAA would not punish pilots for “simple mistakes, inadvertent actions, or other small infractions.” That got me to thinking: What exactly are simple mistakes?
I’m sure we all make them. A simple mistake might be knocking over a glass of milk at the dinner table. What family with kids has not had to clean up such a mess? It seemed to happen often at a certain age with my kids. Soon enough, I learned to give them smaller glasses of milk, and then just refill them as needed. It was easier than cleaning up a large spill. They outgrew that in time.
Our minds do play tricks on us. Dialing a phone number, such as: -2240, but you reverse the last two numbers and dial: -2204. Of course, you will get a wrong number or one of those automated announcements that “the number you have dialed is not in service.” Oh, well. Dial again and get it right this time.
We also get into habits of doing things the same all the time. 99% of the time I turn right when going out of my driveway. Then one day I want to go somewhere that requires a turn to the left, but I turn right anyway, because I am so used to doing that. Immediately I know that I wanted to go the other way. Oh, well; turn around and go the other way.
Then there are the times when we hear what we expected to hear, but that is not what the controller said. Departing from an Ohio airport taking my son on a sightseeing tour, I asked for a right turn out. The tower controller told me to make left traffic, and when I turned right anyway, he jumped on me. My son confirmed that the controller had told me to make left traffic, but I was so fixed on making a right turn that I was sure that he had said right traffic. There was no conflict with any other traffic, and nothing more was said about it. Had it been at an airport with parallel runways, there could have been a conflict with some other traffic. I could have been given a pilot deviation warning, but it was a quiet day there….. thank God!
Could that have been considered a “simple mistake?” In aviation, simple mistakes can be harmful, or worse. That’s why we use checklists and train so much. We really want to avoid even simple mistakes. But when your mind plays tricks on you, a simple mistake could turn into something much worse. I was expecting to hear that a right turn was OK and just did not hear otherwise. In this case it was not serious, but got my attention to never do that again.
Some simple mistakes don’t turn out so well. There are many NTSB reports of accidents that started out simple, but turned fatal later on. A famous one involves a Cessna 182, fuel related also. The owner of the plane had not had an annual inspection on the plane for several years, but would fly it anyway. There was evidence of a fuel leak on the right side of the plane. Even the line worker mentioned it to the owner when filling the plane. The owner shrugged it off and said that he would look into it after his flight. He didn’t have to. It was his and his plane’s last flight. The plane ran out of fuel before returning to the airport. An attempted off airport landing did not go well. The plane was destroyed and the owner died in the crash.
Investigators determined that the owner had a pattern of not doing what should be done, such as an annual on the plane. He also had not used his seat belts on this flight, probably not on other flights as well. All of these simple mistakes added up to an inevitable outcome. The owner had gotten away with it before, so it became a pattern and habit. Even when other people tried to warn him, he ignored their efforts.
I’m sure that “simple mistakes” are human. We are not computers or machines, and some mistakes will occur from time to time. Simple enough - IF we learn from them. As pilots we must constantly be on guard to avoid any mistakes. Use checklists, train often, and a flight review every two years is hardly enough, even though it keeps us legal to fly. Get into the WINGS Program and earn a phase of the WINGS at least once a year.
Your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION is dedicated to Aviation Safety. Look for a Safety Seminar near you, and don’t forget to “bring your wingman!”