GAARMS Report: September 2016
It saddens me to report that we are now up to 6 fatal accidents this year, with 9 pilots perished, but fortunately NO passengers. And it has gotten personal! Below is the NTSB website list.
Several of the pilots who were killed this year were flight instructors, but it appears only one was actually providing flight instruction during the flight. Ironically, the two flight instructors in the Robinson R-66 that crashed by Wikieup were on their way to a check ride!
Another interesting fact is that 3, and possibly 4, of the 6 accidents happened during the departure phase of flight, a much too common trend lately, although the circumstances behind each one may be significantly different. The pilot of the Piper Seneca that crashed up here in Flagstaff was a CFII, a former DPE, and one of our FAASTeam Lead Reps, and he was on a Flights for Life humanitarian mission delivering blood. He was also a very close friend of mine. We often shared and traded missions. This accident struck very close to home, and he will be forever missed.
As I was writing this, my copy of the September issue of the AOPA magazine arrived. Naturally, I stopped everything and read it cover-to-cover – well, almost (some things don’t have my interest). (I only read cover-to-cover when my copy of Aviation Week and Space Technology arrives!) Being the GAARMS guy, what really caught my interest was my long time friend Rod Machado’s article, “The Forbidden Question – Can we ever really be accident free?” His article really says it all. If you have not read it, do it. If you don’t get the magazine, support the AOPA or borrow it. It is the essence of GAARMS, and I could not say it any better. I am not going to plagiarize Rod’s article, but rather paraphrase parts of it to reiterate the purpose of GAARMS and to emphasize several points. Rod’s forbidden question is – “What is the lowest level of GA accidents we are capable of achieving without depriving pilots of the flying liberties we now enjoy?”
I agree with Rod when he says that there will always be someone, some group, some government entity, inspired by good will and humanity, but without any flying experience, that will propose changes to make GA safer at the risk of making it more restrictive and less accessible for everyone. They will simply justify their position by saying, “We’ll save hundreds of lives if we can add just one more regulation.” And they will say it without any understanding or consideration of what those changes might cost in terms of our flying liberties.
At many of my safety programs, I have often said (in jest, but mocking those entities) that I (but not quoting Donald Trump) can single-handedly reduce the GA accident rate to zero – just give me all your airplane keys and licenses. There! I have reduced the rate to zero! But wait – I have heard of people stealing airplanes and flying off without keys or a license, so maybe accident–free is a pipe dream! I believe God gave each of us free will, and sometimes that free will gets us into trouble. Show me any activity, like skiing, rock climbing, climbing Mt. Everest, NASCAR racing, going to the movies (think Aurora) or going out with friends (think of the night club in Orlando), that is perfectly risk free. Then I might begin to think GA can be accident free, but I do not think it is humanly possible. I certainly don’t think driving to the airport is risk free, and as good a safety record as the airlines have (which is really a great safety record), it is not entirely risk free.
However, great strides have been taken to improve the GA safety record. Back in the mid 60’s, the FAA decided to do something about the then appalling flight instruction accident rate. The CFII refresher courses were put into place, requiring CFI/CFII’s to undergo refresher training every two years. The result? During the next seven years, after some 200 plus seminars, attended by over 16,000 CFI’s, the flight instruction accident rate fell by 67%. That’s right, the accident rate dropped by 2/3rds!!! Type ratings were introduced to further the piloting skills of those pilots flying very high performance or complex, sophisticated aircraft. Two classic examples of that would be the MU-2’s, which had a terrible safety record before the training solved that problem, and the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) program, which is very successful.
As Rod further states in his article, clearly pilot education works, but something is missing. While the flight instruction accident rate fell 67%, there has NOT been the same reduction in the GA community. Even with the proliferation of available education, pilot seminars, safety programs, on-line education, webinars, Flight Reviews (BFR), etc, the GA accident rate has, for all general purposes, remained static. As Rod says so well: “It is possible that our personal flying liberties are being balanced out by the inevitable accidents that result from this freedom? In other words, aviation education’s influence over a pilot’s behavior might not produce the same results it did in the flight instructor community.”
So, what level of safety, or more to the point, how many accidents are you willing to accept as “Normal”? After all, look at the number of automobile accidents and deaths every year, and we don’t even blink an eye. We see accidents almost every night on the news, and some don’t even make the news, but let there be one GA airplane crash and it is BIG news, because as the uninformed public will gladly tell us, those “little airplanes” are dangerous!
Perhaps those entities that believe the accident rate is way too high are relying on statistics, which most politicians and government agencies tend to do. I can make the statistics say whatever I want them to say. As an example, if 100 people are killed on the highways every day, no big deal! That is only 2 per state a day! Or that is only 100 out of a population of 300 million, an absolutely infinitesimally small percentage. However, if 100 pilots out of a base of only 500,000 licensed pilots were killed (which is a significantly larger number percentage-wise), it must be more dangerous! I love how statistics work. How many people are struck by lightning every year? Based on a population of 300 million, your odds of being struck is absolutely close to nil, but if you look at how many players are struck by lightning while actually playing golf, statistically speaking, golf is a very dangerous sport… Have you seen any government outcry for new regulations on playing golf?
I have been in GA for 45 years. (Yeah, I know, no longer a bold pilot, just an old pilot.) I have flown coast to coast, border to border, flown over or into almost every state except Hawaii, and have met and know a lot of pilots. I have not met one who woke up in the morning and said, “I think I will go out and crash my airplane today!” However, an awful lot of them do say, “I think I will go out and get some instruction today,” or “I am going out and practice landings to get a little better at it.” Of course, we all know there is some risk in flying, but you’ve also heard me say time and time again in our safety programs, there is risk in life, and we take every step we can to mitigate those risks.
If I knew my number was up tomorrow, I would go and lock myself in a padded cell and take no risks that day. Of course, I also believe God has a sense of humor, and if it was my day to go, I would still die by suffocation when the padding on the walls of my cell fell off and smothered me!
They say there is a road to Hell, but only a stairway to Heaven. Hmmmmm, are they trying to imply something about volume here??? Anyway, I hope I get to use the stairway when my number is called, so I can meet up with my old friend Mac McClure and go enjoy flying with our new wings once again.