Editor's Log

April 2001 Issue

The Skeptic’s Eye

If youíre convinced youíre flying safely, perhaps you need to look more carefully at yourself.

Much as some people say they like winter flying, thereís no way around the fact that, for most pilots, winter only seems to muck things up. Hangar flying replaces cross country flying and a whole lot of airplanes have just had an annual inspection done.

With spring comes a new commitment to flying, new chances to spread our wings and the reaffirmation of why we took this thing up in the first place. Itís easy to get distracted by the prospects of a season full of new adventures and fresh challenges. Maybe a new airplane or another rating is in the works, maybe not. Regardless, this is the time of year to take stock of your flying, yes, but also your attitudes toward flying.

The ASFís Nall Report was issued as we went to press, and it contained some encouraging news about flight safety. VFR into IMC accidents were down. Overall fatalities were down. Mechanical failures donít cause many accidents.

There are not really any surprises in the report, but it will serve to reaffirm the conviction most pilots have that flying light planes is not insanely risky. Recently on one of the internet newsgroups there was a lengthy discussion about risk, with many pilots adamantly contending the statistics donít apply to them because theyíre too smart/skilled/proficient/cautious to make the mistakes that most commonly cause accidents.

If you believe that, make sure your insurance coverage is adequate. Studies indicate that roughly 85 percent of airplane crashes are caused by pilot error. Not pilot stupidity. Not pilot recklessness. Most pilots have experienced flights where theyíve made mistakes that have caused at least a moment of concern (panic?). A little bad luck just then, and maybe bad would have become worse.

Rationalizing away risk does not reduce it. Preparing yourself to make good decisions, armed with sufficient skills and a prudent attitude is what reduces risk. You canít handle that? Stay on the ground.

Good equipment can reduce risk. That applies not only to well-maintained machinery that doesnít break, but also to avionics that add accuracy and capability. The Nall Report says VFR into IMC accidents are down. I gotta believe that autopilots and GPS have as much to do with that as education and propaganda.

If you do nothing else this year, take a look at the way you make go/no-go decisions and ask yourself if youíre truly happy with your approach. Fly enough to stay proficient. Donít just log hours for the sake of saying youíve flown. Do something with those hours. And for goodness sake, take along enough avgas.

-Ken Ibold