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." />

9 Running Out of Fuel. It truly is unbelievable how many pilots run out of fuel every year. It’s interesting to note that most of these incidents occur not because, say, the fueler didn’t put enough gas on board. Instead, pilots try to push it just a little bit too far, running out of gas just short of their destination. That darned “get-there-itis” bug tends to afflict pilots all too often when it comes to fuel. Who wants to make an extra stop, anyway? But that 30-minute fuel stop is better than the one you’ll have to make when your tanks go dry.

The problem with fuel management is pilot mentality. Pilots think of fuel in terms of distance, particularly if, during their planning, they determined the flight could be made with the amount of fuel on board. Instead, fuel should be thought of in terms of time. The best way to implement this philosophy is to determine how much fuel will be available once you’re airborne, in hours and minutes. Of course, an allotment of fuel should be set aside for time to divert, then a little more for reserve. Upon departure, a countdown timer should be started. When the clock expires, you land. No ifs, ands or buts about it. This alleviates the problem of changed groundspeed due to wind and helps give pilots a mental excuse to land short of the destination.

Mismanagement of Technology. Scientist and novelist C.P. Snow once said that “technology is a peculiar thing. It brings you great gifts in one hand and stabs you in the back with the other.” The mismanagement of technology is a pilot error that has come under particular scrutiny lately, as glass instrumentation has quickly been invading the cockpits of general aviation aircraft. There is much debate concerning whether modern cockpits augment or diminish safety. But the fancy equipment is not to blame; it’s the pilots who don’t manage their resources properly that cause exigency. What often happens is that pilots don’t take the time to learn the equipment thoroughly. When the glass does something a pilot hasn’t seen before or something needs to be changed quickly, too much concentration is focused on the avionics. What suffers is situational awareness and, more alarmingly, aircraft control.

The accident data says it all. According to the statistics, pilots have the cards stacked against them. But they don’t have to sit idle. Alternatively, pilots can be proactive to reduce risks. They can immunize themselves against common mistakes. Keeping a careful watch, pilots can intercept error chains before they go too far. As President George Washington wisely said, “timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursement to repel it.” With each bit of extra effort, pilots will, no doubt, increase the safety of flight.


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