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Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

Carnegie Hall

Though ascribed to a variety of piano and violin virtuosos (virtuosi?), the joke remains the same.

As the maestro hurried down the New York sidewalk on the way to work, a stranger, seeing the violin, stopped him to ask, “Excuse me, sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

The artist nodded and replied, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Regardless of the truth in that joke, it begs the question of what to practice, or, the less elegant one of, “Why bother to practice, I don’t want to go to Carnegie Hall anyway”. OK, so I occasionally over-think things. 

The art and science of flying consists of an amazingly large number of skills.  And unlike a gymnast’s routine, they don’t always occur in the same order, one flowing smoothly (one hopes) into the next.  Regardless of how much I practiced gymnastics, it didn’t always work that way for me, though practice did result in higher average performance, fewer disasters, and less damage to various parts of my anatomy (and ego) except on those (entirely too frequent) occasions on which my enthusiasm and confidence exceeded my skill level.  It’s amazing how much you can learn about anatomy by looking at X-rays.  But I digress again …

Let’s start with the second question – why should I practice?  OK, so you don’t intend to be a professional pilot, and maybe aren’t even planning to get an instrument rating or fly in even semi-iffy weather.  What DO you want to do on a flight?  It may be to take a friend on a Bay Tour, or to fly to Seattle or Lake Tahoe for the weekend, or any of a hundred or so things we do on a flight.

However, there are a lot of assumed outcomes and details in any of those objectives.  If you were to be a bit more specific, the Bay Tour, for example might be stated more accurately as, “I want to take my friend on a Bay Tour and do it without violating any FARs.”  Perhaps not the highest bar one could set, but it’s a place to start. 

Getting even more specific, we might include completing the flight safely.  Or we could add our desire to fly so smoothly and comfortably that our passenger would come back and fly with us again.  In any case, when we lay out in detail what we want to do, we can compare it to what we’re doing now.  And if we make the assumption that you are honest and realistic in assessing your skills, you should see that some practice is in order.  It may also lead you toward the first question about, “what should I practice?”

However, even the best of professionals usually goes to another pro to sort out what needs to be practiced.  The top golfers and tennis players go to their favorite pros for skill assessment, and technique improvement.  Why should the process be any different for a private pilot with no intention to turn pro?  You still want to fly safely and smoothly enough that cost-sharing passengers will come back and do it again. 

Since we’ve already established (if we’re honest with ourselves) that there is a need for practice, perhaps flying with a pro would point out other areas in which we could practice.

OK, so you fly with a pro once every two years for a flight review, and it’s often a stylized exercise in which you review recent FAR changes and demonstrate that you can fly the plane to the standards of the rating, often doing things you haven’t done in the previous two years.

Now, what if you called up your favorite instructor a few weeks ahead of the BFR instead of simply showing up, and asked him or her to do a skills assessment and (based on that assessment) to lay out a plan to make your goals more attainable?

On the (unfortunately rare) occasions that I am asked to do such an assessment, I like to break it into three pieces: an assessment of how the pilot does things on routine (whatever that means for the pilot involved) flights, how the pilot does things on less frequent flights, or perhaps ones that the pilot is considering, but hasn’t actually done all that often, and finally, how the pilot handles unexpected situations.

It should come as no surprise that such an assessment isn’t performed by doing a one-hour Flight Review any more than a golf pro assesses a golfer’s game by watching a single swing of a driver or iron.

But you WILL be a better pilot when the process is complete.