Editor's Log

September 2003 Issue

Words of Worry

Safety is important, but so is the perception that we’re not off our rockers

There are two or three days every month that I have come to dread. For it is on these days that I compile and review the NTSB’s reports of aviation accidents for the previous month.

It is morbid. It is depressing. It puts me in a foul mood. My family hates these days just as much.

Over the years I’ve followed this routine, I have become jaded and insensitive. I call people idiots – and worse – for transgressions such as pushing a long landing instead of going around, and winding up in the trees. Somehow, I would hope to have more compassion.

Perhaps what bothers me the most is that the record offers incontrovertible proof that this flying thing can be a risky venture. Few people plan to put themselves in a hospital or a friend in a grave, but it happens with astonishing regularity.

As this month’s D-Days came up, I noticed something different. When I decided to take a sunset flight by myself on a beautiful July evening, my wife called me when I was at the airport preparing to leave. She told me to be careful. When I landed and had cleaned off the bugs, I noticed a voicemail on my cell phone. Another call from my wife. The concern in her voice was palpable.

I asked her about it later that night. Yes, she worries when I fly – particularly the Citabria – even though she knows I’m cautious and take no chances when it comes to proficiency. She also inquires about the experience and attitudes of anyone with whom I choose to fly.

I mentioned to her that in the summer there are perhaps 180 to 250 accidents nationwide each month, and her eyes widened. I hastened to add that the majority were minor things such as runway overruns and hard landings that did not cause injury, but that didn’t seem to help. I dug the hole a bit deeper by adding, “but only 40 or so are fatal.”

“That many?” Ever see iciness and panic struggling with each other?

“Well, that’s in a bad month,” I lied. “Usually it’s not so high.”

Unfortunately, this is the kind of discussion many general aviation pilots have with themselves, their significant others and their colleagues far too often.

What we do affects our safety, to be sure. But the perception of safety held by those who don’t fly – as well as those who ought to know better – is shaped by every careless mistake or lousy decision that happens to find its way into the morning paper.

Although it’s impossible to supply a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether flying is safe, it does no one any good to fall back mumbling something about the drive to the airport being the most dangerous part of the trip.

We face risk by accepting it, understanding it, and taking steps to minimize it. But we need to be active and vocal in our pursuit of safety. After all, if flying is perceived by others as being a foolish undertaking, then at what point do we act the fool by pursuing it?

-Ken Ibold