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Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

“It’s OK; it’s Not Your Fault”


Have you seen or heard the ads?  It seems that being overweight, having brittle and unmanageable hair, low sex drive, and any number of other things that seem to ail the listeners or watchers of particular shows “… isn’t your fault.”  As if a daily intake of 3500 calories and a sedentary lifestyle is the result of someone else holding a gun to one’s head to make one fat.

Pilots, by their very nature, tend to be pretty independent people – it’s hard not to be when you’re out there over the Sierras by yourself.  Pilots also, and I guess it’s just a part of being independent, occasionally have control issues.  I mean, who of us would rather sit in back and have someone else up front with the controls.

Now these two concepts aren’t exactly compatible.  I mean, if you want to be in control, how can things that go wrong be anything other than your fault?    Sure, if’ there’s a mechanical failure or problem, perhaps it isn’t your fault, but if you look at the NTSB statistics, mechanical failures account for a really small percentage of accidents.

Granted, I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting in the Chief Pilot’s chair, but as an occasional GM, and remediation pilot, I’ve noticed that club members that have had accidents fit into two categories:  Those that find any number of “reasons” the accident happened (none of which were their fault, of course), and those that admit they made a mistake, regret their actions, and learn something significant from it.

Sure, things happen during almost every flight, and we have to deal with them.  Just like a landing, where you may have an idea of what the winds are (from the ATIS, the windsock, or the waves on the water), but you can’t take that preconceived notion into the touchdown; you respond to the conditions that actually exist, not those you forecast.   More specifically, a perfect flight is so rare that in something over 13,000 hours of flight time, I’ve never had one.   And ego aside (and I admit to having one, though I don’t have a “DAMN I’M GOOD” bumper sticker), I don’t think I’m the only one still striving for the perfect flight.

So every flight involves a continual process of changing from “not perfect” toward “perfect”, the definition of which seems to vary from person to person.  Still, there are times that the adjustment gets made a bit late, or a little slow, or a little small, and things get interesting and the heart stops pumping blood and starts circulating straight adrenalin.  In most cases, this doesn’t involve paperwork or bent metal, and if we’re lucky/clever/disciplined, we learn something from the situation.  It could be something as simple as “don’t do that again”, or it may be a much deeper truth about flying or our own technique.

Sometimes, it DOES involve paperwork and bent metal, and those were the ones I saw as GM or as a remediation pilot.  Fortunately, most of the pilots I had to remediate had already had spent a sleepless night of two thinking about what went wrong, how it happened and how to avoid it in the future.  They had already reached the point that the remediation was intended to reach – they knew they had made a mistake, they knew what the mistake was, and they knew how to keep it from happening again.  And that made my job as a remediation pilot really easy.  It also affirmed that this was the kind of person we wanted in the club – they were much safer pilots after the problem than before.

On the other hand, I have had a couple (and other remediation pilots tell me the same story) that blame everyone other than themselves.  One extreme case was a pilot that ran out of fuel and blamed the airplane for running rich – as if it didn’t have a mixture control, and as if he hadn’t flown past five airports AFTER noticing that he was low on fuel.  He apparently believed today’s television message, “It’s not your fault.”

However, if you can take responsibility for your actions when things go wrong, not only can you learn from them, you can take responsibility for your actions when things go right!

Celebrate your successes – they ARE yours.  When you pull off a smooth flight in rough conditions because you knew where the bumps would be and avoided them, when you do a great landing, when you hold your altitude within 20 feet, when your flight (despite ATC’s “help”) takes EXACTLY as long as you planned, in fact, when ANYTHING goes right, take credit for it.  Enjoy it; you earned it just as surely as any mature pilot accepts responsibility for things that go wrong.