Tag: aviation

Loss of Control

When You Ask for Too Much

Article appeared in Flying Magazine April, 2016 by Martha King –

It was the slightest of rumbles.  Both John and I felt it.  John, who was at the controls, eased the control yoke forward slightly and the rumble stopped.  We landed safely and taxied into the ramp.  We had a plane full of pilots, but an after-the-fact survey revealed no one else on the airplane had felt the rumble.  It was the aerodynamic warning of a stall in our old Falcon 10.  With hydraulically-assisted, irreversible controls in this airplane, the pilots don’t get feedback in the controls.  The rumble was the only aerodynamic warning we would get.

Martha King PIlot and John King Pilot land the King Schools Falcon.

The King Schools Falcon 10F on a short-final on Runway 36 at Tullahoma Airport.

Had John reacted differently the aircraft could well have stalled and the aviation community would have racked up one more “loss of control” tragedy.

We had been on our way to Oshkosh for AirVenture.  Ironically, we were diverted to Appleton due to the loss-of-control crash of another jet.  The pilot was on approach to runway 18 at Oshkosh and had been given instructions to slow for traffic on the runway, and keep his approach south of runway 27.  These are the exact circumstances that John and I had escaped some years ago with a go-around.

Our diversion to Appleton left us scrambling.  We quickly briefed our approach, but then at the last minute the tower directed us to another runway.  The rumble occurred during John’s last-minute maneuvering with a steep turn from base to final to get lined up with the new runway.

What these situations have in common is that they were set-ups for loss of control.  The National Transportation Safety Board has loss of control on their most wanted list, and for good reason.  Loss of control is a big deal.  Almost half of all general aviation fatalities are caused by loss of control, and they are almost always fatal.

I confess I have had a hard time getting my brain wrapped around the subject of loss of control.  It has become the safety issue du jour, but it is a huge category.  I mean, you could say there are only two conditions in which an aircraft can crash—either in control or out of control.  I am not sure that learning that a crash happened as a result of loss of control gives us much actionable information.  Plus, I have a tendency to see loss of control as a result rather than a cause.  Having said that, if we as a community could crack the code to eliminating loss-of-control accidents we could save thousands of lives.

Loss of control has occurred anytime the aircraft does something you don’t want it to do.  That can happen whenever you expect too much of either the aircraft or yourself as the pilot–asking one or the other to do something they just can’t do.  For instance, asking an airplane to fly with too much load factor will result in loss of control.  Yet pilots do it on the turn from base to final with regularity.  Pilots frequently ask too much of themselves when landing in crosswinds, or flying in instrument weather conditions without proper preparation.

There are many ways to lose control—pilots can be very creative about it.  What they all seem to have in common is that almost all loss of control accidents occur in repeating scenarios—with perfect hindsight you realize the pilot should have seen them coming.  The idea behind learning the habit of risk management is to turn that perfect hindsight into foresight for pilots when it counts.  It means knowing what’s happening now and what bad thing might happen next if you don’t do something about it.

Looking at it that way, all loss of control accidents are the result of a failure in risk management.  But not everyone looks at it that way.  A flight instructor-friend of ours firmly believes that anything that might distract from stick-and-rudder skills during flight training is doing the learning pilot a disservice.  In fact, he calls these “distractions” “fantasy flight training.”

Truly, there is much to be said for helping learning pilots have the highest level of skills they can attain.  However, all pilots inevitably have some limitation on their skills.  Without risk management, it is possible for any pilot to get themselves into situations that no amount of skill could get them out of.  To paraphrase an old saying, it is wise to use your superior risk management to avoid situations that just might require even more than your superior skills.  A training program that focuses solely on skill, and ignores risk management, will leave pilots unnecessarily vulnerable.

When a pilot does manage to avoid an accident, it is hard to know whether it might have been superior risk management or superior skill that saved the day.  On our approach to runway 18 at Oshkosh, it could be said that I executed a go-around so that I didn’t have to use superior skill, although cleaning up and doing a go-around in a highly wing-loaded, swept-wing jet from low altitude is not without its challenges.

On John’s approach to Appleton it could be said that John’s slight forward pressure on the control yoke in response to the rumble was a demonstration of superior skill.  But with all due respect to John, it didn’t take all that much skill to apply that slight forward pressure.

The important point in each case is that a successful outcome required the knowledge and risk management habits to recognize a scenario that was a set-up for stall/spin, and also recognize the mitigation needed. Although in times past we sometimes did not demonstrate these qualities, our performance in these instances seems to indicate that over the years we might have developed them.

Then, in addition to knowledge and risk management, skill was required to execute the response.  That’s why the Airman Certification Standards (ACS), which in June will replace the Practical Test Standards (PTS) for the Private Pilot and Instrument Rating tests, will require pilots to demonstrate all three.

Pilots have been taught knowledge specific to aviation since the beginning of flight.  We need knowledge to get full utility out of our flying.  But the real reason we need it is to be able to identify and mitigate risks.

The knowledge needed for the Oshkosh and Appleton events was the standard knowledge that everyone learns about stall/spins—the need to manage angle of attack and load factor, and the importance of keeping the nose yawed into the relative wind.  Additionally needed was knowledge of the aerodynamic warnings that our airplane provides for a stall.

Learning risk management, in this case for stall/spin, requires practice at recognizing scenarios that can lead to stall/spins, and coming up with mitigation strategies.  The specific scenario in the traffic pattern that most often leads to loss of control is the very one we had at Appleton—turning from base to final with lots of distractions.  In this case there was also a last-minute runway change requiring maneuvering to get lined up.  Add in a tailwind from base to final, and an overshoot, and it becomes an almost irresistible temptation to steepen the bank and maybe even add some bottom rudder.

Consideration of the skills required for preventing loss of control prompts a call for a return to the basics.  All the skills we learned when we learned to fly are about keeping control of the airplane.  In addition to all the other skills every pilot learns, in stall/spin scenarios it becomes particularly useful to have a well-honed sensitivity to load factor, and to the side loads that tell you when the nose is not yawed into the relative wind.

While learning knowledge and skills has always been fundamental to learning to fly, the recent emphasis on preventing loss of control brings a new understanding that loss of control is at its core a failure in risk management.  Among the many outcomes of poor risk management, loss of control is the most frequent and the most deadly.

The ideal is for pilots to become so practiced at identifying risky scenarios that they develop the ability to “smell” trouble, and not allow themselves to get into situations that might lead them to ask themselves or the airplane to do something they just can’t do.

The problem with any kind of loss of control is that while it may take considerable time for the situation to develop, when it comes to the actual moment of loss of control, it can happen very quickly.  When things have progressed to that point it is very difficult to recover.  The best recovery is not to need one.

Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?

Article appeared in Flying Magazine October, 2015 by Martha King –Martha_04

My thumb was already in motion towards the mic button to declare an emergency when the Anchorage Center controller’s voice sounded in my headset. “N4577L, cleared for the ILS DME Runway 11 approach at Ketchikan.”

It was January in Southeastern Alaska. John and I were on our way home to San Diego in our Cessna 340 from teaching weekend ground school classes in Fairbanks and Anchorage. It was our eleventh round-trip to Alaska in our own airplane, and our refueling stops in Southeastern Alaska were always challenging.

The area has a well-deserved reputation for generating icing conditions. Plus, there were sections of the route where we would lose both navigation signals and communications with ATC. We would just hold our heading until we picked up the next VORTAC, and start listening on the next frequency. And of course at that time there was no radar coverage—IFR separation was based on each pilot’s reported position, time, altitude, and estimate to the next reporting point. You had to build your own image of the traffic flow based on the conversations you heard on the frequency.

Now there is radar coverage in Southeastern Alaska, so ATC doesn’t have to rely exclusively on pilot estimates. And when ADS-B is implemented in 2020, both ATC and any pilot with at least a tablet will have a real-time picture of aircraft locations.

As we approached Ketchikan, I began to realize there was an Alaska Airlines B727 overtaking us. It too was headed for Ketchikan, and it looked like it would arrive very slightly ahead of us. Thinking of the almost-certain icing conditions we would encounter at lower altitudes, I told Anchorage Center that if we were going to have to hold for the airliner I wanted to hold at altitude, above the clouds, to stay out of the ice. “You won’t need to hold,” the controller responded. “Descend and maintain 7,000.”

As I leveled at 7,000 feet the controller called with holding instructions. It appeared the B727 wasn’t as much ahead of us as the controller had thought. And as I had anticipated, 7,000 feet, the MEA in that area, did put us in icing conditions. I was cleared to hold at a fix on the airway at the 30 DME arc off Annette Island VORTAC, and once I was cleared for the approach I’d have to fly about 10 miles on that DME arc just to intercept the localizer and then 14 more miles to the airport—all in icing conditions. I wasn’t happy.

Although I had all the de-icing equipment activated in the C340, the ice built up steadily and our airspeed started to decrease rapidly. I kept comparing my estimate of how quickly the ice was building with my anticipation of when I would get approach clearance. Just as I made the decision to declare an emergency and start the approach without a clearance, the controller came through with my clearance. As I descended on the approach, I watched with relief as the ice slowly began disappearing from the wings. Although in the end I didn’t have to declare an emergency, it was just a matter of luck.

Was my readiness to declare an emergency, and almost certainly make Alaska Airlines do a missed approach, appropriate? I would make that same decision again, in the same circumstances. I had made the calculation that the B727 had a lot more power than our C340, had better icing protection than we did, and if anyone had to hang around in the ice it was safer for him to do so than us.

The controller’s number one job is to keep airplanes separated. As a pilot, I am in charge of everything that can affect the outcome of the flight. I have to be proactive rather than waiting for the controller to give me directions. Plus, there are many circumstances in which a controller might not be there to help me.

Pilots often tend to think, “I’m in controlled airspace everywhere I fly, I’m always talking to a controller who can help me out.” But that’s not necessarily so. Numerous control towers and ATC centers have been evacuated due to tornadoes, fires (internal or external), or earthquakes. Ultimate responsibility always falls on the pilot. A pilot cannot give away that responsibility to a controller; they must always be ready to be fully PIC.

An example is the total shutdown of Chicago Center on September 26, 2014 due to sabotage. A deliberately-set fire caused Chicago Center to lose all radar coverage, and shortly thereafter all communications with the airplanes it was separating. A number of airplanes descending for landing were put into holding patterns before communications went completely dead; en route airplanes had the frequency go silent. Every pilot had to make a command decision about how to handle the loss of communications.

En route aircraft generally just kept on going while they searched on their charts, or called on 121.5, to get a frequency in an adjacent center. Airplanes descending for landing, or in holding patterns, generally re-established communications through a nearby approach control.

A controller’s greatest nightmare is being cut off from their traffic. But pilots cannot afford to have their biggest nightmare be being cut off from the controller. We need to be able and willing to be PIC without the direction of ATC—or even against the direction of ATC.

One of the most remarkable incidents I have seen of a pilot truly exercising PIC authority happened at the Providence, RI airport on the night of December 6, 1999. There was heavy fog at the airport, and the tower controller could not see the runways or taxiways.

United Airlines 1448, a B757, landed on 5R, turned off to the left, and got lost on the taxiways in the fog. It ended up with its nose back over 5R. The United flight reported they were at least partially on a runway. They didn’t know for sure which one, and actually reported at one point it was 5L. But they were pretty sure it was in use because they could hear the sound of a FedEx B727 taking off.

With the dense fog and no ground radar, the tower controller could only rely on the pilots’ reports of their positions. While the United pilots were still trying to figure out where they were, the tower cleared US Air for takeoff. The US Air captain refused the takeoff clearance, not once but twice, and stated he would hold his position until United had reached its gate.

The pressure on the US Air captain was huge. The tower controller was forcefully trying to get him to take off. But the US Air captain knew the United pilots didn’t know for sure where they were. The tower wouldn’t either until the plane reached its gate. The US Air pilot that evening proved that he was truly pilot-in-command.

Sometimes exercising PIC authority doesn’t involve contradicting ATC, just suggesting a better route or procedure. That’s what pilots do whenever they request deviations for weather. On a trip not long ago into the DC area, Potomac Approach was issuing holding instructions to pilots. The controller issued me instructions to hold on the airway at the Linden VORTAC 10 DME fix.

Looking out the window and at our radar, I could see that the clearance would have me going in and out of a nasty-looking cumulus cloud. When I asked to hold at the 15 DME fix instead, the controller was happy to give it to me. He was just busy separating traffic. It was my job to keep everybody on my airplane as safe and comfortable as possible.

The issue of PIC responsibility and authority is just as important for VFR pilots. For instance, there is a tendency for some pilots to feel a false sense of comfort from an erroneous belief that they have shared—or transferred—responsibility when using flight following. While flight following can be helpful in letting you know about pop-up TFRs, they only provide traffic advisories, not separation, and only on a workload-permitting basis.

Nor does flight following guarantee search and rescue service when an aircraft goes down. Unless the controller has reason to believe an aircraft has gone down, if a pilot just quits talking to them—because the pilot changed to a different frequency, flew out of radio range, or crashed—the controller will not automatically activate search and rescue procedures. That’s what flight plans are for.

We as pilots are always in charge of our own welfare. Sometimes it is scary to contemplate, but as pilots we cannot give away our responsibility to a controller. Regardless of IFR clearances or flight following, only we have final responsibility for the outcome of a flight. As the PIC, we can’t afford to be passive. We must always be proactive, not reactive, and always be truly the pilot in command.

King Schools Updates Their Online FIRC to Include a Scenario-Based Training Lesson

Lakeland, FL, April 10, 2013 — Today at SUN ‘n FUN,  John and Martha King, Co-Chairmen of King Schools, announced that they have updated the King Online Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC) to include a new lesson on scenario-based training (SBT).

 

“Scenario-based training is now part of the FAA Practical Test Standards, but most CFIs have not had training on how to incorporate scenarios in their lesson plans,” commented John. “The King Online FIRC now gives instructors tools and insights on how to implement scenarios that will teach their customers to effectively manage the risks associated with each flight,” continued John.

 

“Our goal is to provide relevant and important content with every lesson,” remarked Martha. “That’s why the King Online FIRC includes topics like SBT, conducting an effective flight review and identifying and changing at-risk behaviors,” concluded Martha.

 

King Schools released the first version of their online FIRC course in May of 2012 and it remains the only FIRC to provide an entirely paperless online renewal process with nothing to notarize and nothing to send in.

 

The King Schools FIRC program has been designed to run on the iPad and on all Windows and Mac Web browsers. It sells for $99 without CFI renewal processing or $124.95 with processing included.

 

For more information, go to www.kingschools.com/FIRC or call toll-free 1-800-854-1001 (worldwide +1-858-541-2200).

King Schools To Release Online Helicopter FIRC For Flight Instructor Renewals

Lakeland, FL, April 10, 2013 — Today at SUN ‘n FUN, John and Martha King, Co-Chairman of King Schools, announced that they will release an online Helicopter Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC) by early summer. The good news is that helicopter CFIs wanting to renew their certificate online will no longer be forced to muddle through airplane specific topics that often have little or no relevance toward flying helicopters.

“Helicopter pilots and instructors often have to make do with training materials that have an airplane focus,” commented John. “As passionate helicopter pilots and instructors ourselves, we know that can be very frustrating,” continued John.

“We are excited to be able to provide helicopter instructors an alternative that is built just for them ‘from the ground up’,” remarked Martha. “Renewing flight instructors now have the opportunity to try something new, and we hope they will find our alternative to be engaging, educational and fun,” continued Martha.

“The goal is that by giving helicopter flight instructors more insight into topics that are focused on helicopter flying such as identifying and changing at-risk behaviors, and conducting an effective flight review, they will have more tools available to produce helicopter pilots truly ready to be pilot-in-command,’’ concluded John.

Just like King Schools’ General FIRC course, the helicopter specific course will provide an entirely paperless online renewal process with nothing to notarize and nothing to send in.

The King Schools FIRC program has been designed to run on the iPad and on all Windows and Mac Web browsers. It will sell for $99 without CFI renewal processing or $124.95 with processing included.

For more information, go to www.kingschools.com or call toll-free 1-800-854-1001 (worldwide +1-858-541-2200).

King Schools Offers Initial and Recurrent Part 135 Training

Main menu of King Schools Part 135 Initial online training Course

Oshkosh, WI, July 26, 2012— Today, John and Martha King announced that King Schools has completed their Part 135 knowledge training suite by releasing two new Part 135 Recurrent online training courses. The KING Part 135 Initial and Recurrent Pilot Training courses easily fit into a company’s training package to address all the general knowledge requirements of FAR 135.345. These online courses significantly reduce the classroom time required to address the training requirements, freeing up time from the trainer and allowing pilots to meet requirements on their own schedule. Operators with many pilots also have the option to receive regular reports on completion status for their pilots.

Main menu of King Schools Part 135 Recurrent online training course

“These courses greatly reduce workload while providing pilots with a thorough review of the general knowledge topics required in FAR 135.345,” Martha commented. “And because the courses are delivered online, pilots can take them wherever they may be—from any computer or iPad with a connection to the web,” continued John “These courses include progress tracking along with a completion certificate and logbook endorsement to prove the training was received,” concluded Martha.

The King Part 135 Initial training course is available for $189 and each of the recurrent training courses sell for an introductory price of $99. Volume discounts are available.

For more information, visit www.kingschools.com.

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About King Schools

For over 36 years, students and pilots at all levels have enjoyed King Schools´ clear, simple and fun courses. In fact, nearly 1 out of every 2 pilots flying in the U.S. today has learned with King. The company is also a leader in on-line pilot certification and avionics training for pilots of high-performance and turbine aircraft. To find out more, please visit www.kingschools.com. or call 800-854-1001 (worldwide +1-858-541-2200).

Press Contact

Barry Knuttila, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Technology, King Schools
direct phone: (858) 576-6265
e-mail: bknuttila@kingschools.com

King Schools Offers Free Private and Instrument Flight Training Syllabi

The KING Instrument Rating Syllabus, available as a free download

The KING Private Pilot Syllabus, available as a free download

Oshkosh, WI, July 26, 2012— Today, John and Martha King announced the immediate availability of free King flight training syllabi for the Private Pilot Certificate and the Instrument Rating. The King syllabi are targeted at independent flight instructors and their customers, and include guidance on incorporating the King Schools Knowledge Test Courses, Practical Test Courses and special subject Takeoff video courses to create a comprehensive and easy to follow roadmap. Each syllabus is not only suitable for Part 61 training, but is also Part 141 approvable.

“The use of a syllabus increases learning effectiveness by ensuring that the instructor and their customer both have clearly defined, common goals for each flight lesson,” commented John King. “When using a King Syllabus, customers will know what to expect, and will have the opportunity to learn new concepts at home rather than in the airplane,” continued John. ”This will increase customer satisfaction by helping them excel at each new task,” commented Martha. “It will also save them money by reducing training hours required to reach their goal,” John emphasized.

“Most significantly, this syllabus incorporates concepts of risk management and supports scenario-based training,” continued John. “Making this important training tool available for free makes it easy for all flight instructors to use a professionally developed plan of action,” concluded Martha.

For more information, visit www.kingschools.com/cfi.

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Transition To the Cessna Skycatcher or Just Learn All About Flying This Remarkable New Airplane

About King Schools

For over 36 years, students and pilots at all levels have enjoyed King Schools´ clear, simple and fun courses. In fact, nearly 1 out of every 2 pilots flying in the U.S. today has learned with King. The company is also a leader in on-line pilot certification and avionics training for pilots of high-performance and turbine aircraft. To find out more, please visit www.kingschools.com. or call 800-854-1001 (worldwide +1-858-541-2200).

Press Contact

Barry Knuttila, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Technology, King Schools
direct phone: (858) 576-6265
e-mail: bknuttila@kingschools.com

The Threat to Our Airport

Our local airport (MYF) is under threat—not by the neighbors, not by criminals, but by the very operators of our airport.  They are well intentioned.  We have had “incidents”.  These incidents aren’t security hazards; they are taxiway and runway incursions.  Not one has resulted in a risk of collision with an aircraft.  These “incidents” get reported, analyzed and scrutinized.   The FAA can always threaten our airport funding if this is not fixed.   As a result, the operators are rushing to create a solution that could greatly impair our access and change a key component of our lives.

There has been no collaboration.  There have not been meetings, there has not been a request to explore alternate solutions, instead there is an edict.  We will have an access card system.

The problem is that most of the “incidents” have been caused by people who would have access under a card system.  What the card system does is provide the opportunity to require mandatory training for card-holders and it provides the opportunity to threaten taking away the card.  What the card system also does is make it much more burdensome for us—and particularly our passengers—to have access to our aircraft.

“The reason the lack of collaboration is so problematic, is that there was no opportunity to explore other, equally effective, less burdensome solutions.”

The reason the lack of collaboration is so problematic, is that there was no opportunity to explore other, equally effective, less burdensome solutions.  For instance, if the goal is to have airport users block entrance to others until the gate closes, the set-up for it should make it practical.  At MYF, once you go far enough from the gate to get it to close that there is room for another car behind you, there is no practical way to block non-compliant entrance without the risk of a physical altercation.  We have had people drive around us and through the gate while we were waiting for the gate to close.  In order to make prevention of tailgating practical and safe, gates and corridors should be designed to allow only one vehicle to pass at a time—even when the leading vehicle has pulled forward to allow the gate to close.  This would allow the design of the system to provide the enforcement rather than transferring the burden and risk of enforcement to the user.

The delay for gate closure should be minimized.    It is not practical to expect users to accept inordinate delays while waiting for the gate to close.  Unnecessarily long waits tempt even the most conscientious users.  Let’s get a practical gate system that not just saints would comply with.  And the extended delay increases the risk of an altercation with an annoyed driver behind you.

“it…should not be the role of the airport user to intercept and have an altercation with people…”

The signs should request that airport users monitor for non-compliant entrance and report it rather than accosting the non-compliant entrant.  The signs should give us a local number to call to report incidents—after all we all have cell phones.   But let’s be practical, it would be of no use for us to call the national 800 number for that kind of incident.

Additionally, it is not and should not be the role of the airport user to intercept and have an altercation with people who do not follow the rules.  Our role should be to report the behavior and it should be made practical for us to do it.

We all want a safe, yet accessible airport.  Implementing a gate card system without implementing training, and improving the gate operation and signage, won’t work.  If we do these things first, we won’t need the gate card system. If we all cooperate we can have reasonable airport security and reasonable access at the same time.

The Most Important Thing We Can Teach

John and Martha King

(We originally wrote this article for the
National Association of Flight Instructors)

As instructors we all want the best for our customers.  We teach them the FAA-required skills and knowledge, and even go beyond those standards.  We warn them about the hazards associated with weather, navigation, performance, aircraft loading, and every other hazard we can think of.  They then are required to pass a knowledge test.  Finally they undergo an evaluation of their ability to put this all together when they take their practical test.

“Nearly everyone…in general aviation knows someone personally who was killed in an airplane accident.”

In spite of our earnest concern on their behalf, the results aren’t all that good.  General aviation fatality rates are an unacceptable 8 times that of cars on a per mile basis.  Nearly everyone who is engaged in general aviation knows someone personally who was killed in an airplane accident.  These people as a rule are not incompetent, nor do they court risk.  In fact, general aviation self-selects capable, achieving people who are leaders in their communities.  In most cases these people and their passengers came to grief because they inadvertently exposed themselves to risk that they didn’t fully understand.


Example with names and places changed
James Jackson was in the ill-fated plane with his wife, MaryAnne, and their two children, David and Alison, flying to a family reunion at Columbia, CA. Witness Brian Daugherty told the Press-Journal that he watched the plane take off and saw the pilot appear to attempt to clear a line of fog. “He was heading toward the coast and tried to climb,” Daugherty said. “From the time he took off he was going too steep, too slow.” All four occupants perished in the crash.

Dealing with Nebulous Risks

We’ve done our best, so why aren’t we getting better results?  Well, first of all flight is a hazardous activity.  Airplanes have to get to a lethal speed just to get airborne.  Additionally, the risks associated with flying are not as intuitive as the risks we normally face.  In fact, they are sneaky and insidious.  Professional risk managers tell us that when the risks are nebulous and hard to quantify, people tend to underestimate them.  In aviation, the probabilities and consequences of things going wrong are particularly hard to judge.  As a result pilots underestimate the risks and overestimate their ability to deal with them.

Since the beginning of aviation the way we have taught risk management is by telling stories, passing along rules, and making up sayings—things like…

  • “The only time you can have too much fuel is when you are on fire.”
  • “The two most useless things in aviation are the runway behind you and the altitude above you.”
  • “You’re a lot better off being on the ground wishing you were in the air, than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

These are great sayings, but they are not enough.

“In aviation, the probabilities and consequences of things going wrong are particularly hard to judge.”

In fact, the way most pilots become “experienced” in aviation is they get their certificate and then go out and try stuff. They expose themselves to risk, and then evaluate the result.  If they don’t scare themselves, they place it in the “acceptable” category.  In fact, they may have just been lucky.  But the more times they get away with it, the more acceptable the risk becomes.

On the other hand, if they scare themselves they add what they did to the list of things they won’t do again.  If they don’t run out of luck, they become an “experienced” pilot.  The problem with experience is that she is a hard teacher.  She gives the test first, and the lesson comes afterward.  Many pilots, and their passengers, never survive to get the lesson.

A Systematic Approach to Risk Management

But even a long list of unacceptable risks doesn’t prepare pilots for risks they’ve never taken or thought of before.  What’s needed is a systematic approach to risk management.  We already employ a systematic approach to conducting a preflight inspection of an airplane.  Just as generations of pilots have been taught since the days of the barnstormers, we very systematically walk around the airplane examining it in great detail—even carefully raising the ailerons to inspect the hinges.  But no such procedure is used to consider in advance the pilot’s risk management of the flight.

“…only a very small percentage of accidents are caused by mechanical failure.”

The problem is that only a very small percentage of accidents are caused by a mechanical failure.  But a very large percentage of accidents are caused by a failure in risk management on the part of the pilot.  The result is that during pre-flight pilots pay very careful attention to things that don’t cause accidents, but spend very little time contemplating the things that do cause accidents.

The reason that pilots spend little time thinking about risk management is we don’t yet have a procedure in place to teach pilots how to do it.  As instructors we have earnestly attempted to tell pilots about all the hazards they might face.  But we will never be able to think of them all and they wouldn’t be able to remember them.

What pilots need is a tool that they can routinely use to anticipate the risks so that they can be managed.  Any systematic, practical procedure to anticipate risks will work, but I suggest the pilots use the PAVE memory aid to “pave” their way to a safe flight.

The letters stand for

  • Pilot
  • Aircraft
  • enVironment
  • External pressures

A Case Study

Let’s take a look at how PAVE might have worked to help James Jackson analyze the risks associated with his flight:

Pilot

  • Not instrument rated

 Aircraft

  • Normal piston-engine climb capability

 enVironment

  • Fog bank to the west
  • Wind from the west

 External Pressures

  • Commitment to attend a family reunion

 

As a flight instructor you would probably observe that pilots often overestimate their angle of climb capability. The probability that a pilot would inadvertently wind up in the clouds or stalling the airplane while attempting to out-climb the clouds is high.  You would also observe that if a pilot finds themself in this situation, the most important consideration is aircraft control.

You would also note that there was a cross runway and that taking off with a crosswind component might be preferable to attempting to climb over a fog bank.

You might also observe that fog banks often clear up as the day progresses and you might advise delaying the departure to allow the weather to improve.

Risk Management from the First Lesson

So those would probably be your thoughts as a flight instructor.  How do you get the new pilot you are training to have the same thoughts?

The answer is that you employ a risk management analysis from the very first lesson.  You would teach your learning pilot to identify and manage the risks associated with every flight, and relate their plan to you.  From that point on you would no more find it acceptable for them to skip this preflight action than you would for them to go flying without a preflight inspection of the airplane.

With practice, your learning pilot would gain the skill of analyzing the risks and coming up with a mitigation plan for them.

Right now, we are expecting new pilots to learn this on their own after they leave flight training.  It clearly is not working.  As flight instructors we can and must do better for them.


Related Links

Teaching Aviation Citizenship

John and Martha King

(We originally wrote this article for the
National Association of Flight Instructors)

As instructors we have many responsibilities—creating pilots who are great risk managers and truly prepared to be pilot-in-command would be high on the list.  It would seem that teaching good aviation citizenship would come way down this list.  But in my view, teaching aviation citizenship should also be near the top.

Helping pilots move from aviation klutzhood to citizenship is a very simple way to help them greatly reduce the stress and increase the enjoyment of flying, and at the same time, markedly reduce their risk of having an accident.

“Pilots who finally do themselves in often have had a long history of not following the rules, and of self-centered and cavalier behavior.”

Not being a good aviation citizen clearly has its risks.  Pilots who finally do themselves in often have had a long history of not following the rules, and of self-centered and cavalier behavior.  The folks who run aviation insurance companies will tell you that there is one very identifiable group of pilots with a significantly higher than average accident rate.  It is those pilots who don’t pay their premiums on time and argue heatedly about training and currency requirements.

As instructors we need teach pilots to manage what they care about.  It is what pilots care about that causes or prevents accidents.  Pilots who care about saving money on fuel will press on to an airport with cheaper fuel even at the risk of running out of fuel on the way. It is my contention that the habit of thoughtful aviation citizenship and what pilots care about can be trained, and that it will carry over into all of the pilot’s flying.

“Unless you take special effort to think about how you are affecting others, it won’t come to mind.”

Now the truth is, being a good aviation citizen isn’t all that easy.  When you are in an aircraft you are busy.  Your attention is focused on what you are doing.  Unless you take special effort to think about how you are affecting others, it won’t come to mind.

Historically, thoughtful citizenship has not normally been included in the flight instruction program.  In fact, occasionally pilots have been trained to do something that has an unnecessarily negative impact on others.  For example, instead of being trained to fly quietly on approach, pilots are often told to increase propeller RPM early on a constant-speed prop to be ready for a go-around.

I had never thought much about how my flying was affecting folks on the ground until I attended a series of neighborhood meetings about a proposed runway extension at our local airport.  Some of the meetings had over a thousand attendees—and most had showed up to let everyone know how much the noise from airplanes bothered them.  The number and intensity of these folks was a great surprise to me.  For the first time I realized that if we wanted to keep our airport, we were going to have to be more considerate of our neighbors.

“There are a few little things we can teach pilots to do that will make a big difference.”

There are a few little things we can teach pilots to do that will make a big difference.  For instance, climbing at best angle-of-climb speed right after takeoff not only multiplies their alternatives in the event of an engine failure, but it reduces their noise impact to the neighborhood geometrically as they gain altitude.

Since much of the noise made by airplanes is caused by the speed of the propeller blade tips, teaching them to keep prop RPM low anytime they are over a populated area will make a huge difference.  Most manufacturers approve RPMs as low as 1800.  Many pilots with constant-speed props are afraid of operating their engines at that low an RPM, because they were erroneously taught never to operate over-square (with manifold pressure in inches greater than RPM in hundreds).  So consequently, they needlessly fly over neighborhoods with their props screaming away.

You can also reduce neighborhood noise by teaching pilots to keep their pattern tight and delay their descent in the pattern until they are on a normal descent path to the runway.  Unless taught otherwise, lots of pilots tend to start their descent abeam the landing point regardless of how extended the traffic pattern has become, and wind up flying an extended pattern at low altitude over neighborhood homes.

The alternative is to teach pilots that when the pattern becomes extended they should to hold their altitude, slow down, keep the airplane to follow in sight, and turn base when they pass abeam you on final.  This keeps their noise footprint closer to the airport and has the safety advantage of making it easier for everybody to keep pattern traffic in sight.

The traffic pattern is one place where exercising courtesy and civility is especially critical to safety.  Regardless of how big or fast an airplane they are flying, at an uncontrolled airport it is the pilot’s responsibility to monitor the frequency. It is disrespectful, dangerous, and contrary to the Aeronautical Information Manual for pilots to assume that they are exempt from the obligation to monitor the frequency and say, “All traffic please advise”.  The likely result is everybody talking at once.  This is a real setup for a midair collision.

“Flying something big or fast…is not an excuse to make a straight-in approach to a crowded pattern.”

Flying something big or fast, even when on an IFR flight plan, is not an excuse to make a straight-in approach to a crowded pattern.  I make it a policy to always fly the pattern, even in a jet, unless I am certain that I won’t interfere with pattern traffic, and weather conditions would make circling risky.  We should teach all our customers to do the same thing.

Aviation citizenship is important on the ground too.

Even the smallest plane can blow things around a hangar or fill it with dust, just by turning the wrong direction.  You can teach pilots to avoid this by something as simple as taxiing past an open hangar before they start a turn.

The other day we were sitting at an airport restaurant wondering when the guy sitting on the ramp with his engine blaring away was ever going to move away from us.  Part of the problem was that the pilot was running his engine much harder than he needed to.  He just hadn’t been taught to reduce RPM to idle after startup.  We should teach pilots to whenever possible copy ATIS and get their clearance before they start up and then move the airplane away from the restaurant area, or any other populated area, right after start up.

“…anyone waiting for an IFR clearance should pull out of the way, if possible, to allow other aircraft access to the runway…”

The other day a couple of professional pilots in a Citation pulled up to the hold line and blocked everyone else from taking off.  As it worked out the airspace in the direction they wanted go was saturated, but the airspace in other directions would allow immediate take-offs.  No one could move, however, because they had blocked the path to the runway.  When tower asked if they could move out of the way, they said they didn’t have room to move, and added that turbine aircraft were always entitled to taxi directly to the hold line.

We should teach pilots that anyone waiting for an IFR clearance should pull out of the way, if possible, to allow other aircraft access to the runway—even if they are otherwise ready to go.  Many times a faster aircraft or one going another direction can go out ahead of them.  It will cost them virtually nothing in the way of time and it will save others a lot.

We should teach pilots to think kindly towards ATC.  We pilots can often be an anti-authority crowd.  I remember in my early days of flying, I’d be taking off VFR and the controller would say, “Say your destination”.  This would annoy me because I thought of controllers as being part of the federal government.  My reaction was, “What business is it of the government where I am going?”  The fact was, the controller just wanted to know which direction I was flying so he could help get me on my way.

“After having flown internationally, I have come to greatly appreciate our ATC system.”

I also used to have a chip on my shoulder about ATC when I didn’t get an altitude or route as quickly as I thought I should have.  After we got a traffic awareness system that let us see the airplanes around us, I realized that the controllers were giving us the clearances we wanted just as soon as it was possible.  Now I realize that they are working every day trying to solve a giant puzzle in the sky to get everybody on their way efficiently.

After having flown internationally, I have come to greatly appreciate our ATC system. I now realize that we have a magnificent system that accommodates general aviation better than anyplace  else in the world.  I see the relationship with Air Traffic Control as a beautiful dance in which each partner plays a cooperative role.  In those cases in which a controller makes a mistake or is impatient, I remind myself that through the years I have caused controllers much more trouble than they have ever caused me.

We should teach our pilots that it they ever do feel that they have a grievance with a controller, the thing to do is call a supervisor on the phone after they land.  The radio is never the place to air grievances.

We should also teach pilots to appreciate FBOs.  Flying a general aviation aircraft internationally has led me to appreciate FBOs.  Most of the rest of the world doesn’t have them in the way we do, and when there are FBOs, they are much, much more expensive than ours.

In most parts of the world fuel is supplied by a roving tank truck that serves the airliners first and general aviation only when there is spare time available.  It is not uncommon to wait hours for fuel.  By the same token, since there is no FBO, there is no place to park your airplane or rent a car.  When you arrive at an FBO in the U.S. people usually come to greet you to ask what services you’d like.  In other parts of the world, when they run up to you as you arrive, they say, “You can’t park here.”  You have to beg permission to park on someone’s property and figure a way to schlep your luggage through the security gate.

We should also teach pilots to appreciate business jets.  It is very difficult even in the U.S. for an FBO to make it based solely on business from piston-powered aircraft.  Yet FBOs often accommodate us in pistons with the same service they give jets—even though jets take on 10 to 20 times the fuel.  We should teach pilots to develop the habit of buying at least some fuel every time they use an FBO and of saying to FBOs, “Thanks for being here, and thanks for the service you provide.”  Our aviation life wouldn’t be the same without them.

“We often fail to think about the flight from the passengers’ view point instead of our own.”

We should also teach pilots to understand their enormous responsibility to passengers.  Passengers trustingly put their lives completely in our hands.  They have a right to expect us to identify and manage the risks of every flight.  We often fail to think about the flight from the passengers’ view point instead of our own.  I can’t tell you how many folks have been lost to the aviation community because a new pilot wanted to show them stalls.  Clearly the pilot was thinking of their own needs—not their passengers.  We lose a lot of potential members of our community because of thoughtless actions.

Realizing that I have been and still am an aviation klutz from time to time has helped me in my efforts to be more tolerant of other pilots who, while wrapped up in what they are trying to do, have joined the aviation klutz club and inconvenienced me.  One of the things we all need to remember is we need other pilots to help keep the critical mass necessary to sustain our industry.  We should welcome and include others into our aviation community and treat them with civility and respect.

As new pilots come into the industry they will make the same kind of annoying and frustrating mistakes that we made when we started flying.  We need to be tolerant of these mistakes, including those of the rusty old hands who still make an occasional faux pas.

I know that I have been least considerate of others when I have been in a hurry.  Being in a hurry in an airplane is not a good thing.  These days when I find myself being in a hurry, I remind myself that the airplane is fast—so I don’t have to be.  We need to teach pilots to slow down and enjoy what they are doing.  They will become safer pilots, have more fun, and be much more considerate towards others.

We need to teach pilots that to be thoughtful aviation citizens, they don’t necessarily have to put others ahead of themselves.  They just need to think about the effect they have on others.  It will cost pilots very little, if anything, to minimize that effect.  The little effort it does take will pay rich dividends to them directly from safer, less stressful flights, and to the aviation community from greater support for airports and more pilots who stay with flying.


Related Links

King Schools Releases Crew Resource Management Course

Main Menu from the King Schools Crew Resource Management Course

Lakeland, FL, March 30, 2012 — Today, at SUN ‘n FUN, John and Martha King of King Schools announced that they have released a new online Crew Resource Management Course. This course is appropriate for all pilots flying as part of a two-pilot crew and satisfies the newly published FAR 135.330, that requires CRM training for all part 135 operators.

“Flightcrews can be safer and more efficient when they are trained to work together well,” said John King.  “Many general aviation and military pilots have not had this important training, and without the training they can often work at cross purposes as a two-pilot crew,” King continued. “The net result can be an actual deterioration in situational awareness and in risk management,” Martha King commented.

“Even crews that have established SOPs and that have flown together for some time, are sure to find a few gems in this course,” continued John. “We started with the idea of what it takes to become a great crew and filled this course with practical ideas that can be put to immediate use for increasing risk management and reducing workload,’’ concluded Martha.

The King Schools CRM course has been designed to run on the iPad and on all Windows and Mac Web browsers and sells for $199.

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For over 36 years, students and pilots at all levels have enjoyed King Schools´ clear, simple and fun courses. In fact, nearly 1 out of every 2 pilots flying in the U.S. today has learned with King. The company is also a leader in on-line pilot certification and avionics training for pilots of high-performance and turbine aircraft. To find out more, please visit www.kingschools.com. or call 1-800-854-1001 (worldwide +1-858-541-2200).

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