Plane & Pilot
Monday, August 1, 2005

Top 10 Pilot Errors

Here’s a smart way to look before you leap onto the next flight

One of the most disturbing statistics about general-aviation accidents is that more than 75% of them are made because of pilot error. Considering that it’s unlikely that pilots are going away anytime soon, the solution comes in the form of prevention. Saying this is easy, but actually making progress toward this goal is rather problematic. The first step toward eliminating pilot error is to examine the enemy. Just what types of errors are pilots committing and why? Then, armed with this information, pilots can make a concerted effort to avoid such mistakes through a fusion of training, planning and keen attention." />

3 Poor Communication. Another boo-boo pilots seem to have an affinity for involves deficient communication. This difficulty of communicating comes in several forms. When dealing with air traffic control (ATC), pilots tend to hear what they want to hear. Good pilots anticipate what is coming next, including ATC instructions; however, this profound skill can trick the mind into “hearing” what is expected regardless of what actually filters into one’s headset. Also, misunderstandings between ATC and pilots happen all the time. This plays into the most knotty communication quandary of all: the lack of communication. It’s silly that a pilot would rather keep quiet than ask for help or clarification. If there is any question on what was said, ask for elucidation. It’s amazing how shy pilots can be when it comes to this simple task. Don’t fall into this trap. It’s better to find out you’ve misheard something immediately rather than finding out your license is going to be suspended later.

4 Low-Level Maneuvering. If you ever hear the words “watch this” from a pilot, look out! Pilots are notorious show-offs. How many times have you heard about the pilot who performs an impromptu air show for friends and significant others? A few low-level maneuvers later, and the plane is falling out of the sky. Some air show. The problem isn’t just that pilots are flying low to the ground; it’s this combination of flying too slow and in too tight of a turn that causes crashes. Of course, adherence to the minimum safe altitudes laid out in the FARs is a much smarter practice. If you do actually find a legitimate reason to fly close to the ground, fly the plane like you do when you’re close to the ground at other times, like during landing. Monitor your speed and your bank angle. You certainly wouldn’t try a 60-degree bank turn with no flaps at a very slow speed when turning base to final, so why do it over your parents’ or friend’s house?

5 Inadequate Preflight Inspections. It’s amazing how many pilots mess up preflight inspections. A cursory walk around simply to “kick the tires” so you can hurry up and “light the fires” is beckoning for trouble. Take your time during your preflight. If you find yourself inspecting in haste, slow down. Take a comprehensive look at everything, with checklist in hand, to make sure you don’t miss anything. When you finish, scrutinize the details. Take one last waltz around the airplane, looking for anything that jumps out as being amiss. Perhaps a door isn’t flush with the fuselage or there is still a red, waving flag-looking apparatus on the pitot tube. It might sound funny, but there was actually an occasion when a pilot neglected to unhook a tail tiedown, which was connected to a concrete block. The pilot wondered why the plane required so much power to taxi and why it had an inexplicably aft center of gravity in flight. Luckily for this pilot, he was able to live to tell his story.

Inadequate Preflight Planning. Renowned classical novelist Miguel de Cervantes wisely said “forewarned forearmed.” Those who are prepared are equipped to deal with the tasks at hand. Typically, the level of preflight preparation is proportional to how smoothly the flight goes. Think about a time when you rushed your flight planning and how it came back to haunt you later. Often, pilots take off with no planning whatsoever. That’s when they have a tendency to get tangled in temporary flight restrictions or nasty weather. Countless pilots neglect to check density altitude, even though they’re planning a departure from a short strip with a field elevation of 6,000 feet on a 100-degree F day. Weight and balance also is something that often is dismissed. But how can you know for sure you’re in limits if you don’t even bother to check?


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