By Howard Deevers
While discussing “CFIT” (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) with another instructor, he told me that all CFIT accidents could be prevented. I sure do hope so, but how do you do that? His answer was to just read FAR 91.103, then he started quoting that regulation to me. (If you want to pause here and look that up, go ahead).
I know people that can quote regulations like they are verses from the Bible. When I was in the Navy, another sailor on my ship was fond of telling us “that's against Navy 'Regs.'” I asked him if he had a copy of the Navy Regs, but he did not. In 4 years of Navy duty, I never saw a copy of anything called “Navy Regulations.”
Aviation is different. You DO need a copy of the FAR's to take to your checkride. The examiner may even ask questions about the FAR's, and you can look it up, if you don't know the answer right away. Just be sure you know where to look.
Back to 91.103, it says, in part: “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.” There it is. In one sentence the FAA puts the entire burden of flying an airplane on the pilot in command. And in the rule just before this, FAR 91.101, it tells us where these rules apply: “Within the United States, and within 12 nautical miles from the coast of the United States.”
91.103 goes on to give examples of what a pilot should know, such as, “Runway lengths at airports of intended use.” Other wording refers to aircraft performance. Knowing these things will help your score on the knowledge tests. It is not a long regulation, only 5 short paragraphs. If knowing that regulation will prevent CFIT, then I'm all for it. But knowing it and acting on it are two different things.
What exactly is ALL available information concerning a flight? Weather, aircraft performance, fuel requirements, weather again, route planning, weather again, fuel planning again, weight and balance, and a page full of other things to think about. Did I know all of that when I got my Private Pilots License? You can bet that I did not, but experience is a good teacher, if you can survive. What I did have was good instructors and mentors that gave me the confidence to go out and get that experience, and learn from it, without killing myself or anyone else.
To get your drivers license, you have to take a test. Remember to use your turn signals, don't go over any speed limit, come to a full stop at any stop sign. As soon as we do get that drivers license, off we go. 55 MPH speed limits? It's OK to go 60, or even 65. Complete stop? Naw, just pause, look, and go. I see it every day, on every street in every state.
So, how can I expect my newly minted Private Pilot to adhere to ALL of the regulations in that 2 pound book called the FAR/AIM, and be aware of ALL available information concerning the next flight? Sadly CFIT accidents do happen, and they are tragic and fatal. Many of these are high profile accidents and get publicity in the media. The NTSB investigates all of them and will issue a 'probable cause' about a year after the investigation begins. For those of us that do read the NTSB reports, we end up wondering, “What was that pilot thinking?”
It is easy to be an “arm-chair quarterback” and say why did he do this or not do that? We can always go back and quote regulations like 91.103, but we were not there when the pilot makes the decisions. We don't know what emotional motivations were involved within that pilot. All we can really do is read the reports and then make our own resolve to never do that.
Flight instructors are tasked with the job of instilling good judgment into new pilots. We can quote regulations and give examples of incidents that the student may not be aware of. We can encourage them to read the NTSB report for themselves. What we cannot do is make the decisions for them.
There are some high profile accidents that took place in the southwest that have been written up in publications. One occurred in the Phoenix area over a holiday weekend, when a twin engine plane departed from Falcon Field and hit a mountain to the east at night. It is easy to read about these things and say, “What was that pilot thinking?” Another occurred in Southern California, involving a Lear departing from Brown Field at night and hit the top of a mountain while trying to pick up an IFR clearance. The NTSB investigation provided a host of things that went wrong with that flight. All we are left with is why did this happen? It should not have.
One of the things that always strikes me is that in almost all cases the pilot was very experienced with many ratings and flying high performance aircraft. Each rating requires a checkride with an examiner, and surely they were asked about regulations and performance during the checkride.
The “new” Airman Certification Standards, ACS (we have been using that for a few years now after replacing the PTS), has a “Risk Element” as part of every task for the rating sought. The Risk Element is there to make us think more about what could possibly go wrong while doing this?
It makes sense for us to “become familiar with ALL available information” for our next flight. Why wouldn't we? To paraphrase a famous line from a Clint Eastwood movie, where he was confronting a robbery criminal: “You just have to ask yourself one question: do you feel lucky? Well, do you?” There is another old saying to help us, “If it's bad on the ground, it only gets worse in the air.” Something to think about. Maybe that is why the FAA wrote 91.103?
Look for a Safety Seminar near you, or online. They are free and presented by your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION. Don't forget to “Bring your wing man.”