Reading aviation history underscores the magnitude of change in training, certification, and continued operational safety. I got to see that again from my perch as a note taker for the Administrator’s June 15 Call to Action on Airline Safety and Pilot Training.
With my summer reading immersing me in the mindsets of early aviation, I found it striking that not one of the four focus areas for this meeting would have been considered as key to aviation safety back then.
The Enemy Within. Once upon a time, the focus of any aviation accident investigation was the airplane. Over time, though, engineers and manufacturers learned to design extremely reliable powerplants, airframes, and components. Airplanes and parts do sometimes fail, but reliability and redundancy make mechanical failure an endangered species in the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) search for “probable cause.”
These days, probable cause is more likely to be summed up in Pogo’s famous phrase: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” For evidence, consider two of the year’s most publicized aviation accidents. In January’s “Miracle on the Hudson,” Cactus 1549 was crippled by Canada geese. An experienced and highly professional crew made a dead-stick ditching that allowed everyone aboard to walk away. In the second air-carrier accident in February, factual information suggests that the basic mistakes contributed to a very different outcome.
We Can Do Better. Participants in FAA’s Call to Action meeting agreed that the air carrier industry must do better in human factors areas that contributed to the Buffalo tragedy. GA accidents do not attract the level of scrutiny of major accidents, but they are no less tragic and, in most cases, just as preventable. The four focus areas are all relevant to non-commercial general aviation. I hope that we as individual pilots, flight schools, and general aviation organizations will all commit to improving:
Training Standards and Performance – The FAA encourages a “train the way you fly, fly the way you train” approach using realistic scenarios. As reported in the March/April 2009 FAA Aviation News, “hi-fi” simulation in GA can also enhance the quality and effectiveness of training.
Professional Standards and Flight Discipline – Being a professional pilot is a mindset, not a paycheck. Perform in a way that makes every flight a testament to good aviation citizenship.
Mentoring – Consider finding an aviation mentor to help you safely gain experience in new areas. If you are a pilot with experience to offer, reach out and be a mentor. (For more information, see Best Practices for Mentoring in Flight Instruction.) www.faa.gov/ training_testing/training/media/mentoring_ best_practices.pdf ).
Management Responsibilities for Crew Education and Support. If you own or operate a flight school, consider what you can do to ensure that your flight instructors have the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and support they need to nurture safe pilots. (FAA Aviation News – SeptOct 2009)