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Pilot Decision Making


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Pilot Decisions - The Pressure is ON!

 “The NTSB could not determine why these experienced pilots made inappropriate decisions that led to the accidents, the pilots may have been subject to self-induced pressure to start or complete the flight....” from the NTSB reports. Sound familiar? Every year we hear reports or read about pilots making inappropriate decisions.

The quote above is from an NTSB report where the NTSB became “especially” concerned about four accidents, by experienced pilots in a one year period between 2007-2008, involving volunteer medical transportation flights. The NTSB recommended to the Air Care Alliance (ACA), a federation of organizations providing volunteer medical flights for patients, to create a pilot program to provide “....guidance, additional training, oversight regarding aeronautical decision making, focus on preflight planning, and risk awareness.”

Our flights may not be medical transportation flights, but all our flights are still voluntary. We can also easily become affected by the “pressure” to complete the flight. Examples... student pilot, I need to go on my cross country today because the weather will be bad for the next week... private pilot, I need to fly to Chico for a family wedding tomorrow... When the “pressure” is on, pilots (us) may be vulnerable to make poor decisions. Here are four examples mentioned in the NTSB reports detailing how other pilots made poor decisions (under pressure).

The first was a Beech 35 which crashed into a shopping center parking lot when the instrument rated pilot failed to maintain control during an instrument (ILS) approach. The pilot apparently had no recent record of instrument currency.

NTSB details

The second was a Beech A36 which crashed on takeoff after hitting the airport glideslope antennas. The pilot unfortunately decided to takeoff downwind and possibly on the last one-third of a 5,000 foot long runway. The 81 year old pilot was also recovering for prostate cancer and had recently undergone 21 external radiation treatments.

NTSB details

The third was a Socata TBM 700 which crashed after takeoff (during climb out). The private pilot with 5,688 hours had 58.4 hours in the last 30 days. Unfortunately the pilot decided to takeoff downwind with winds gusting 25-33 knots.

NTSB details

The fourth accident involved a Piper PA 32R which crashed after experiencing convective turbulence and became disoriented. The airplane was observed spinning out of the bottom of a cloud with part of a wing missing. Weather briefing information and GOES-12 satellite data showed cumulonimbus type clouds over northeast and southern Ohio where the accident occurred. Low-level dark gray clouds were observed in the area all morning, with darker clouds to the east at the time of the accident. The 57 year old instrument rated private pilot had 1,949 hours and had flown 52 hours in the last 90 days.

NTSB details

So why did these experienced pilots crash? They may have felt self-induced pressure to complete the flight because a patient was counting-on-them. As a result, they likely observed but decided to ignore critical flight risks during their preflight... instrument currency... downwind takeoff... poor weather conditions.

We can learn from their mistakes...)