I have always stumbled a little over the concept of recreational flying, or sport flying. Somehow those words—even though I know the intended meaning—don’t quite go together with the absolutely serious task of flying.
The problem is that flying, any kind of flying, is potentially lethal. An airplane can’t lift off until it obtains enough speed to be dangerous, and it can’t slow below that speed without becoming really dangerous. So at all times during flight we need to be in positive control and there is no way to hit the “pause” button and reconsider our situation. Continue reading
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was here at AirVenture on Thursday and again reminded everyone that we must take a professional attitude toward our flying, no matter what kind of aircraft we fly, or why we fly it. The Administrator—a very experienced pilot who worked his way up from instructing to a captain’s seat with a major airline—repeats this message wherever aviators gather.
Flying like a professional has nothing to do with getting a paycheck for your work in the cockpit. Nor does it take an advanced pilot rating, or thousands of hours to fly like a pro. But what is necessary is an attitude that forces you to identify the risks in your flying and the necessity to mitigate those risks as much as possible.
The starting point for assessing the safety of your flying is to recognize how serious and eternal the consequences of an accident can be. Pilots who fly for a scheduled airline or for charter are forced by the rules to make these pre-takeoff safety determinations because the lives of paying passengers are in their hands. But is that different than when we take our family and friends up for a spin? It shouldn’t be. An accident will have lasting and permanent impact on anyone, not just those who paid for a flight.
Can the pilot of a recreational airplane fly like a professional? Absolutely. But that pilot faces a more difficult task than those who fly in a more regulated environment. The pilot of an experimental airplane, for example, assumes some additional duties of making sure the aircraft is the best and safest it can be─a job that is mostly handled by manufacturers and regulators for standard category airplanes. Self discipline and the ability to use a cold eye to identify unreasonable risks is required of any who fly, but particularly so for those piloting experimental airplanes.
The Administrator has made improving general aviation safety one of his top priorities and he reported to the crowd here at AirVenture that strong positive gains were made in the accident rate in 2010. But he also reported that the trend was not so good this year, and that so far July has been a particularly bad month for general aviation accidents.
It is a true but useless statement to say that the big majority of general aviation accidents are caused by “pilot error.” That probable cause of an accident is essentially useless because it does not explain why the pilot made an error, and what can be done to prevent other pilots from making the same error.
For example, if a pilot flies an airplane with a lightly loaded wing in strong winds and crashes, was the loss of control in the wind the pilot error, or the decision to fly in the strong wind the true error? I think we all know the answer to that.
The only valid way to reduce the number of general aviation accidents is for all of us to consider all factors that impact our flight and be certain our airplane and our skills match the challenge. Events during flight may make the true professional fall back to a backup plan, but they should never take him by surprise. The Administrator is correct. We can fly for fun professionally because flying like a pro is an attitude, not a job.