Aviation Safety Letter 2/2003

Human Factors and Accidents

Year after year, we hear about pilots who are involved in accidents; sometimes even fatal ones. Often the pilot's family and friends are bewildered at the fact that this professional or private pilot was involved in an accident. We hear remarks such as, "He was such a methodical pilot; he was so careful, and he knew his airplane so well." It is quite possible that he fell victim to a condition that afflicts us all - human errors. It may have been caused by fatigue, stress, complacency, lack of recent training, or illnesses. It could have been physical, psychological or both, in nature.

Flying is always a serious business. The environment and the qualities necessary for a successful flight are demanding, whether you are flying a trike, a hang glider, an ultralight, a paraglider or a powered paraglider (PPG). The flight starts before you do the walk-around of your aircraft, and ends only after you have secured the aircraft and have ascertained to a degree that you and your passengers are safely back home.

This brings to mind two important qualities of a good pilot. The first is that he is serious about his flying and gets recurrent training. Professional airline, commuter and military pilots continually get training, and the accident rate in those fields is very low. At least once a year, your money would be well invested if you booked a certified flight instructor to review all aspects of flight with you, including a thorough ground briefing and a flight check. The second important quality of a good pilot is that he is very familiar with the aircraft's pilot operating handbook (POH) and uses a checklist during all the necessary phases of flight. Before a flight, he reviews the emergency procedures found in the POH and makes sure he is prepared, should it occur. When you fly an ultralight, a trike, or a PPG, make up a checklist that covers procedures to follow in case an emergency situation occurs.

Accidents usually happen because people fail, and less often because machines fail. Consider the fact that any deviation from the prescribed regulations or the manufacturer's instructions may void the insurance policy and opens the possibility of legal action against you or your family. The legal battles may go on for years, and are not pleasant for anybody.

Human factors affect our lives everyday, and as pilots - whether we are flying professionally or for fun - we must realize that flying takes practice and abilities beyond those required for ordinary tasks.

Such a realization will ensure the continued pleasure and satisfaction we all derive from aviation.

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