U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


November 2003 




Thought for the month..... Flying, like life, is full of precluded possibilities.

Know Thy Self.... Have you ever read an aircraft accident report and said to yourself: “What a jerk. That guy was really stupid!”. Well, maybe he was, but every one of us has made errors, and at the time we committed them they probably made sense to us. Perhaps we didn’t understand the situation, perhaps we were distracted, or perhaps some other competing priority made, what in 20/20 hindsight was bad judgment, seem like a good option at the time.

Studies done over the last 50 years have consistently produced an interesting statistic. Fifty-eight to sixty percent of us believe we have above average intelligence. Similar studies done on pilots show an even greater percentage think we have above average flying skills (hard to believe, isn’t it). Since you and I are clearly above average, it must be those “other” folks that are screwing-up the survey. “They” are the one’s who will be having accidents, not you and I.

The tendency to hold optimistic opinions of our own ability is really a part of human nature. When we go out to an accident site we can put the pieces of the event together and it often reveals a set of circumstances that no competent person would have accepted or attempted. It’s easy to shake heads and make statements about how foolish the individual was to have made those errors. The reality is however, if all the information available after the accident had been laid out before the person prior to the event, they would never have done what they did. We know that an accident is a chain of events, but the links in the chain are rarely all identified until after the accident.

When we read accident reports most of us can spot errors committed by the individual. In the comfort of our living room, or where ever we may be when we read them, it’s easy to think that we would never make the same mistakes ourselves. During the actual event however, each decision we make in reponse to a changing situation sends us down a different path and eliminates other options. As an example, if I interpret that light spot ahead as good way to fly between some local rainshowers, my decision automatically eliminates the option to turn around and go back to my departure point. If I find out it’s a sucker hole and I decide to try to scud-run underneath, I eliminate the option of getting a clearance and climbing. The accident report would probably say - “continued VFR into IMC conditions, collided with a tower, clearly identified on the chart”. It was a series of decisions that I made in response to the unfolding situation that put me into the tower, but, why was I there to begin with?

Last March, a friend of mine died in an aircraft accident. He was the 12th friend to do so. These friends were not stupid nor accident prone. I considered them all competent and several to have superior intellect and skills in flying. In all cases, when each accident is dissected, the chain of decisions becomes clear. Sometimes the chain was very short and only took one mistake to lead to tragedy. In other cases, the end is a result of a long chain containing several mistakes which, when added together, produced the accident. Can I assume that if I don’t make the same errors I won’t have an accident? The mistake we make when we look at accident reports is that we attribute the the errors made to the personality of the person committing them. Therefore, since I’m not like him, I won’t have an accident.

As I mentioned, we all tend to have an optimistic bias regarding what we do. It would be better to try to understand the situation, rather than looking at the errors a person made in response to it. The kinds of situations that produce more errors often involve a pilot who perceives certain pressures and benefits to complete a flight, an unfamiliar aircraft, deteriorating weather, and an unplanned change in the operation. If we can see the situation developing, we have a chance of avoiding putting ourselves in a position where we might be tempted to make a poor choice.

In the scenario I presented earlier, my decsion to scud-run could have just as easily turned-out good rather than tragic. Would it then have been a good decision? Probably not. It just would have been a decision that had a favorable outcome. It would be more appropriate to examine why it was important to me to continue the flight into worsening weather. What pressures compelled me to continue. If you were going to learn anything from it you would be better served recognizing that your normal “goal oriented” behavior could cause you to make similar decisions. The lesson lies in not how we deal with the weather, but how we deal with ourselves.

Upcoming Events

November 20th
Managing the Risks of Flight
Mountain View Airport
Mountain View, MO
6PM to 9PM

December 6th
Airspace and Charts - Airworthy Aircraft
Linn State Tech.
Linn, MO
9AM to 12PM

January 17th
Balloon Instructer Clinic
Spectrum Balloon Port
Chesterfield, MO

January 24th
Super Safety Seminar
Maryland Heights Community Center
8:30AM to 1:30PM

Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835