Editor's Log

March 2004 Issue

Failed Training

What’s the point of good stick and rudder skills if you make decisions that will lead to grief?

You know how to fly. There may be no question about that. But that doesn’t mean you’re a safe pilot.

So many things influence the safety of a flight. Weather. Airplane. Pilot. Maintenance. Luck. The goal – no surprises here – is to stack as many things in your favor as possible. It’s a lot more than that, though. It’s also important to recognize the circumstances under which you might tend to ignore danger signals.

The biggest failure of general aviation flight training – from initial on – is the lack of emphasis on decision making and risk management. The FAA’s Aeronautical Decision Making model is a feeble effort that focuses on rote memorization of bureaucratese. Clearly the answer is a real-world approach that helps pilots learn where dangers lie and how threatening situations can overwhelm even a prepared, proficient pilot.

King Schools has released an excellent course, Practical Risk Management for Pilots, on CD-ROM. Through scenario-based training, the Kings create an excellent set of illustrations that outline just where threats to your safety can pop up.

The Kings have long held that risk management is a neglected aspect of flight training, and many other training experts agree. Primary among their contentions is that external pressures have far more influence over a pilot’s willingness to embark on a risky course of action than most are willing to admit.

Yet external pressures are given only passing emphasis in most conventional flight training programs. They’re consigned to brief discussions of “get-home-itis” and possibly a reference to VFR into IMC. In what appears to be an astounding lack of foresight, even the FAA’s commercial certificate practical standards contain little on decision-making and risk-analysis skills – this for a license to fly for hire.

In the interest of safety, it’s important for pilots to hold themselves to a higher standard than the legal minimum. Most pilots admit this when it comes to instrument proficiency, yet seem to think it’s perfectly OK to ignore those aspects of training the government has refused to mandate.

In our book, there are three things every pilot should do at least once. The first is spin training. The second is semi-annual instrument proficiency checks for anyone who flies infrequent IFR. The third is to study and understand risk management in all of its forms.

Meeting the legal minimums for any task, rating or proficiency is like getting a C in flying. You don’t accept that on your children’s report cards and you shouldn’t accept that in your logbook.

I’ve flown with pilots who showed superb stick and rudder skills but decision-making skills that would make Robert Downey Jr. cringe. Unfortunately, current flight training strategies churn them out like license plates.

Do yourself a favor. Demand more of yourself than a C.

-Ken Ibold