The next time you hear of (for instance) a light aircraft found in a ravine with a pilot and three passengers deceased in an accident which occurred in bad weather, don’t jump to conclusion that pilot error was the cause, or the only cause. Most accidents are far more complex.
The truth is, general aviation is getting safer year by year, although there is no question that flying in a small aircraft is–statistically and on average–many times more hazardous than commercial airline flying. But remember, this is an average: it does NOT correctly reflect the safety of a careful, well-trained general aviation pilot in a well-maintained airplane.
The biggest challenge in my view in the aftermath of a small aircraft accident is finding out all the contributing factors which led to the disaster so we can apply those lessons and prevent similar disasters in the future. The resources and the money, however, just can’t support the extremely detailed reports we’re familiar with from major accidents, and that fact means that we are prone to have repeat accidents from the same causes because we haven’t adequately learned and applied the lessons.
The Human Factors aspects–what led a human to fail when a human failure was at the heart of the loss–is a prime example. Okay, so we had a pilot continue flight into instrument weather conditions when he or she wasn’t qualified to handle such a challenge and that was a primary cause. But what leads a pilot to do such a thing? Bad raining? Bad attitude? Liquor? A hidden physical problem? When we’re unable to get all the contributing factors on the table, were unable to focus regulators and educators alike on eradicating the tendency of pilots to fall into the same traps.
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New York Times Bestselling author John J. Nance is a veteran airline captain, a decorated U.S. Air Force pilot and war veteran, a licensed attorney, professional speaker and world-recognized Aviation Analyst. Read more about John Nance here.