February 2010 Issue

Why So Many CFITs?

They rank right behind stalls as a major accident result. Scud runs are the main reason, but all have one thing in common: Bad judgment.

There’s one undeniable constant in aviation: All accidents eventually terminate by contact with the surface of the planet. We have various ways of describing how that contact occurs, thus the somewhat oxymoronic phrase "controlled flight into terrain," or CFIT. This category of accident is an attempt to explain the unexplainable: why pilots so often fly perfectly functioning airplanes into the ground, killing themselves and all aboard. However anomalous the concept, the occurrence of CFIT is anything but. Pilots fly into the ground—terrain, trees, obstacles, water—nearly as often as they stall or lose basic control of the airplane. As we reported in our January 2010 article on the causes of fatal accidents, stalls lead the list, but CFIT is essentially tied for second, along with loss of control.

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