Risk Management

Mission Interruptus

Troubling words from a pilots mouth: Uh, where were we?

Neglected Pit Stops

Among the most avoidable mishaps are those caused by fuel exhaustion. Most of them seem inexcusable, yet virtually every pilot has flirted with this danger at one time or another.

You may pass up refueling at a major metropolitan airport because of the price. Or youre in a hurry and rationalize that you can make it with good leaning or tail winds - especially if youve made the same trip before. If the winds are not as forecast or your leaning is a bit off, you could be in for trouble. Ditto if you fail to recheck the weather en route and arrive to find it below minimums.

According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundations Nall Report there were 95 accidents due to fuel exhaustion in 1998...

Just Say (Definitely) No

A friend assures me that he has developed a sure-fire method to duck out of jury duty. When the defense poses the first voir dire question, merely reply: Well, the police wouldnt have arrested him if he wasnt guilty.

If the judge doesnt threaten contempt, the defense attorney will immediately conclude that no one could possibly be that dumb. On the other hand, on the off chance that someone could, using up a challenge is cheap insurance. Next juror, please.

The irony of this absurdity is that in such life-and-death matters as jury trials, were spring-loaded to doubt the governments pronouncements. Yet as pilots, most of us react in the opposite way when confronted with ATC clear...

Time Shortage = Human Error

Getting rushed or falling into situations where a time shortage rears its head is one of the leading causes of inducing errors. If you are rushed for time, you are eleven times more likely to commit an error.

You are more likely to skip critical items, overlook important details or jump at the first idea that enters your mind without fully looking at other options. Youll ignore important warning signs and generally get that deer in the headlights look. Its prevalent in all segments of aviation. During my recent research into EMS helicopter accidents, I found that time pressure was one of the leading error-causing conditions.

Some time shortages are self-induced. Others are created...

Repelling Terrain

There are large parts of this country where the terrain can impede your climb-out after takeoff. Sometimes it can even be a factor during en route climbs.

It takes just a quick glance through the NTSB database to find dozens of accidents in which the aircraft was unable to outclimb rising terrain. Those accidents reveal a number of common factors involved with this type of accident, in addition to the rising terrain. High density altitude carries much of the blame, to be sure, but so does restricted maneuvering area, adverse winds, heavy aircraft weights and relatively low power-to-weight ratios.

When most people think of rising terrain, they picture mountain peaks that rise nearly 1...

Risky When Real

[IMGCAP(1)]I was driving down a country road when I had to blink to make certain I wasnt hallucinating. There was a Cessna 152 by the side of the road. It was undamaged, which was surprising because the road had a number of power lines running along it.

I stopped to see if the person standing next to the aircraft was okay. He said the flight instructor had pulled the mixture to simulate an engine failure when they were doing S turns along a road. The student had few options for an emergency landing area and chose the road. There was no time to try re-starting the engine.

The student said the flight instructor had walked down the road to try to find a better stretch of the road for...

Nowhere to Hide

[IMGCAP(1)]If the lure of exploration is strong, those magazine pictures of the backcountry airstrips, such as those in the Northern Rockies, are an irresistible lure. Vast areas in the United States are designated as wilderness area and are accessible only by horseback, hiking, drift boat - or airplanes.

Most wilderness areas contain a system of airstrips ranging from nice grass airstrips with plenty of width and length to strips that are barely wide enough for the landing gear of a STOL aircraft. This is a very challenging aviation environment that must be flown by the right pilot, with the right equipment, training, experience and weather.

The safety margins are very thin in thes...

You Cant Fly There!

[IMGCAP(1)]In the interest of national security, flying light planes has become a confusing and dynamic business where the rules can change between the time you get your briefing and start your engine. In this brave new world, prepare to be wrong.

If thats too pessimistic a view, there is a bright side. The FAA has backed off enforcement actions when pilots can show theyre following the rules that existed an hour ago. And the number of airplanes forced to land by armed fighter jets has been small. So far, the trouble appears to be borne of changing rules, nervous politicians and a paranoid public.

But staying out of trouble has gotten decidedly more difficult.

Consider that in t...

Water or Trees?

When faced with a controlled forced landing, water offers little danger. Surprisingly, the same is true of heading for the trees.

Get Down Right Now

[IMGCAP(1)]Aviation training is often bashed for having a tombstone mentality. We tend to ignore certain shortcomings until an accident or incident instills new religion. Emergency descent training is a prime example of this.

Throughout my private, commercial and ATP courses, I dont remember getting instruction in emergency descents. Yet after the ValuJet, Swiss Air and FedEx accidents-each of which involved fire in flight-every checkride Ive had has included an emergency descent.

Whats the big deal with emergency descents? And is this skill worth your attention? Take one look at the burned wreckage of the FedEx DC-10 at Newburgh, New York in 1996 for your answer. That crew had...

Airspace Blunders

[IMGCAP(1)]It was a typical pre-9/11 afternoon as we approached White Plains. New York Tracon handed us off to White Plains Tower and the controllers were issuing their usual rapid-fire instructions to the arriving mass of airline, regional, business and general aviation aircraft.

The frequency was so congested that most of the arriving aircraft were unable to read back the instructions. We had the TCAS turned down to a six-mile range and our heads were on swivels since the airspace was so busy. The TCAS screen was full of targets.

We were watching the business jet ahead of us turn onto final when suddenly it made an abrupt nose-up maneuver. The pilot cried over the frequency, What...

Fire in Flight

Even a subtle sign of flame or smoke in the cockpit is a bona fide emergency. It demands immediate action.