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How safe is it?

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Apr 11, 2002
Here's another question for the forum. Not to sound so naive, but how safe is flying? I realize it's a question that is pretty broad. I'm considering learning to fly, already set up an introductory flight - but after reading the threads about almost seeing or being in a crash, I'm having second thoughts. It seems like there are a heck of a lot more accidents the lay-person realizes.

Ofcourse, I realize there is some risk involved, but how much? Are there any statistics? I have looked on various web-sites including FAA and have not found much. Are many accidents due to pilot error or misjudgement?

If there is that much risk, how do most pilots deal with it? How much is left to human error vs. mechanical failure/breakdown, or bad weather?


Go to the library and read old copies of FLYING magazine, specifically "I Learned About Flying From That" column and the NTSB accident report synopsis. The vast majority of accidents were due to people being knuckleheads. You're not going to be a knucklehead. You're going to be conservative and not overextend you abilities. You're going to get your instrument rating, and fly enough to stay proficient. When your gut tells you, "DON'T DO IT," you won't.

Airplanes properly maintained are very reliable. As long as you know YOUR limits and your aircraft's limitations, it very very safe. As far as weather goes, that largely a human factor as far as I'm concerned. You make a concious decision to fly into weather because you always get a weather briefing and maintain updates inflight, right? Weather doesn't fly into you, most of the time.

Typical scenario - Non-instrument rated pilot overestimates his ability and illegally continues flight into instrument conditions. Non-instrument rated pilot looses control of aircraft and crashes. NTSB finding: Non-instrument rated pilot illegally continues flight into instrument conditions, looses control of the aircraft and impacts the ground. Pilot fatal. Aircraft destroyed.

It's normal to be a little jittery when first starting out. Fear is a good thing when put into perspective. Trust you instructor. Don't get put off if you get a bit airsick at first. I threw up on my first five rides in pilot training, and I'm here to tell you, you can't learn a **CENSORED****CENSORED****CENSORED****CENSORED** thing while you're busy filling a bag. Gut it out and it'll go away. Be warned, however, even before that, you'll be hooked on flying.
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Let me try to help put you at ease with the age old saying, "it is safer to fly than to drive to the airport to go fly." Throughout my life, short as it may be, i have seen numerous automobile accidents, many of them fatal, yet i have only seen a very small number of aircraft incidents, of which no-one was killed, except for one at an airshow, which tragically had a sad ending.

Don't let the board scare you off, many of the guys on here who start such threads do not think about the consequences of this kind of thing getting out and starting to affect the future generation of pilots. My suggestion would be to ignore those threads and put the ones you have seen out of your mind.

Dealing with risk is pretty much unconscious. We do not sit in the cockpit and think about past incidents or possible future ones, we have a job to do while in the cockpit, and i don't mean just those of us who get paid to do it. As a pilot it is your "job" to safely get yourself to your destination. While you are conducting your flights you really have no time to think of much else besides making sure that you are on course and that you are doing everything your instructor has told you to do, and this especially goes for a new student just learning the ropes. At first it is very overwhelming with all the new and never experienced information that you will learn, but it is all worth it in the end. Sure there will be some things along the way that might scare you a little, or even a lot, but you find the more times you do it the better it gets.

Just give it a shot, the worst that can happen is that you will not like it and then you never have to do it again. Do not overwhelm yourself with the thoughts of tragedies and possible problems that could come up, rather enjoy yourself and feel what it is like to actually fly.

Enjoy, and good luck, i think you will be happy with the choice you have made to start flying.
Everyday I wander to the airport to teach people how to fly. So far, the most death defying experiences always seem to happen on the way to or from the airport. What I'm getting at is this....if you drive a car, you already take part in a more dangerous activity. In so far as flying is concerned - yes it has its inherent dangers, but a great deal of the control over those dangers rests in your hands. The real danger is in not trying. RR
Of course there are a lot of risks associated with flying an airplane, that goes without saying. However it is important to put things in perspective. Its risky to cross the street, but we minimize those risks by looking both ways before we cross.

A large part of your flight training will be orientated toward recognizing what the risks of piloting an aircraft are, and how we can effectively manage those risks. On of the buzz words that instructors use for this is "aeronautical descion making". Basically taking into account factors such as -what is the weather like? am I familiar with this particular airplane? how current am I? what I am going to be doing in the airplane? how do I feel today? ect ect.....

You sound as if your interested in aviation, I suggest go out and take a few introductory flights, after a few hours you will have a pretty good idea if its for you.

There is a great quote about this (I tried to find it but gave up) it goes something like "Aviation in of itself is a safe endever, yet more so than the sea it is increadibly unforgiving of any complecancy or mistake." -some smart guy
You ask a valid question. Let's face it; aviation is not safe. It never has been and never will be. The question is, how can we reduce the risk in aviation to acceptable levels while retaining the spirit of flight and the freedom it represents? It can be done! For many on this board, flying is a great avocation and profession, and most have never suffered a serious incident/accident. This feat is not by chance, however. More on that later.

I'll limit my thoughts to general aviation, since that is where you'll likely start out. Military and professional flight (121 and 135 operations, for example) all have differing levels of acceptable risks and must be addressed separately.

For a rather complete answer to your question, I'd steer you toward the past issues of Flying magazine. If possible, read a year's worth of Richard Collins' articles on aviation safety, of which he writes practically every month. That should give you a relatively complete picture of aviation safety, especially from the General Aviation standpoint. In addition, Flying posted a great article by John King about six months ago on this very topic, in which he espouses that we should not represent flight as risk free, but should acknowledge the danger and face it with smart decisions.

As for my opinion, I believe that risks are inherent in aviation, but one can mitigate those risks by prudent decision making and an ongoing evaluation of your abilities and limits.

This isn't just a philisophical discussion. Pratically speaking, one must acknowledge that flying is riskier than staying at home and watching tv. Then again, riding a bike is riskier than staying at home. Driving a car is riskier as well. So is free climbing El Capitan while blindfolded. All of these actions represent various levels of risk. We instinctively assess risk every day when making decisions--should I cross the street now? Do I dare walk with the traffic to the next terminal? Does the salad look safe to eat? More specifically though, where does flying safety stand in relation to these other endeavors?

Unfortunately, as Collins will point out repeatedly, the FAA does not track the number of hours general aviation aircraft fly. Thus, even though the government has a good idea of the number or crashes or serious incidents, they do not have a statistical baseline from which to derive meaningful conclusions.

I'd rather look at flying safety from another viewpoint. Under what circumstances do most general aviation accidents take place? If I knew what those areas are, I could potentially avoid them. Makes sense, eh? Here are Eagleflip's top four areas of accident causation. Avoid these areas and it will be much less likely you will ever experience an unpleasant event in an aircraft.

First, continued flight into IMC conditions without preparation or qualifications. This age-old problem lures a great number of pilots to their deaths every year. The cure? Know your limits--if you are not instrument rated or not prepared/equipped, stop, turn around, and land when faced with deteriorating weather conditions. A professional pilot (be that his job or simply a love) should strive to get an instrument rating--even if he/she does not plan on using it much, it is invaluable training and could well save your life, along with your passengers' lives.

Second, fuel starvation accidents are far too common. What is it about human nature that abhors admitting that we simply can't make this flight non-stop? Is the gene responsible for this tied to the one that precludes men from stopping for directions to an unfound destination? God forbid! OK, this problem is easy to fix--establish practical, measurable limits on fuel reserves and abide by them. It is reasonable to land with one hour of fuel left in most cases. Why not simply make this fuel level a personal limit and stick with it?

Third--we get lazy and stop learning. Recurrent training is vital to staying sharp. Professionals don't stop learning when they achieve their degree or license, so why not establish a yearly training requirement that will require a little study, a little tension, something out of the ordinary that will make you work, sweat, think, and stay on top of your game. We all tend to be lazy--why not strike back at our inherent weakness and make a date with the grindstone?

Fourth and most important--a pilot's mental attitude is a killer or a savior. As alluded to before, what makes some folks continue into deteriorating circumstances when turning back is the best course of action? Perhaps pride plays a part, and certainly we don't like to broadcast to our passengers or onlookers that we couldn't do something earlier promised. Pride is a tough characteristic; it allows us to demand much of ourselves, and pushes us to learn more as a way of self-gratification. By the same token, excessive pride makes it difficult to stop for gas when we said we could make the trip non-stop. A "must get there" attitude makes it tough to decide to retreat from weather that is simply below our personal or mandated minimums. I know pilots that will not suffer criticism well, and thus do not move willingly toward their biennial check with an instructor. Heck, in my opinion, a good pilot is always learning. There's much to know, so why not embrace these instructional sorties for what they are--a chance to improve rather than an hour of evaluation?

I'm sure there are other issues that dominate the NTSB reports, but these four limitations, if dealt with positively, can reduce the risk in aviation significantly.

Again, it is not a question of whether aviation is safe, but how instead to reduce the danger to acceptable levels. And that, my friend, can be done! I hope you decide to fly a bit and decide for yourself.

The magic of flight cannot be duplicated by other earthbound experiences; come enjoy it for the pleasure it gives, but please remember that you are responsible for your actions. To paraphrase the old adage, aviation is not inherently unsafe, but like the ocean, does not tolerate carelessness, neglect or stupidity.

Best of luck!
Is flying safe? No.

Or yes. It's up to you.

The real question is, "Are you safe?"

The ability to determine the level of safety on any flight is inherently tied to the seriousness of the aviator, and his or her desire to live. Is brething safe? Yes, or no. It depends what you breathe, and how you do it. Is flying safe?

It depends.
Flight Safety

(not a plug for the Academy in Vero or the company! :) )

Flying can be safe or as dangerous as you make it. As the others have stated, most accidents happen because a risk was taken. You have to decide that you will be a safe pilot. You have to follow examples that are set for you for safety.

Just like any activity, there are risks. Crossing the street is risky. Someone can run you over. However, if you look both ways and wait for cars to pass before crossing the street, you minimize your risk. Same as with aviation.

It is said that aviation accidents are chain events. Remove a link from the chain and you prevent the accident. One sad example is the John F. Kennedy, Jr. tragedy. His tragedy began long before he got into his airplane that night. For one thing, he had an ankle injury that might have limited his ability to control his airplane. Then, he was a low-time pilot flying what perhaps was quite a bit more airplane than someone at his experience level could handle. Mr. Kennedy rushed his flight. He could not wait until daylight, so he launched into marginal weather in which he was not really qualified to fly, although it was legal for him to fly. Let's say we remove Mr. Kennedy's need to rush his flight. We've broken the accident chain. Perhaps he'd still be alive and flying. Mr. Kennedy made a choice. He decided that night to take a chance. One of the five hazardous thought attitudes taught in Aeronautical Decision Making is the "macho" attitude. "I can do it." The antidote is, "taking chances is foolish."

Enjoy your introductory flights and then let us know what you think about safety.

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