Aviation Safety; We Can Do Better!

My condolences to the family of Roy Halladay, by all accounts a talented and generous person with so much potential. Not only has the world lost this amazing person, but aviation has suffered another very public black eye with the repeating question “How can this happen?” From what has become available so far, there seems to be some avoidable risks in the recent Icon A5 crash that could have been mitigated.

Identifying and mitigating risks is the essence of aviation safety and this includes the psychological discipline of saying NO to “having too much fun”. Exercising “executive function” and knowing where and when *not* to fly is critical to safety. (See Dr. Bill Rhodes “Pilots Who Should Scare Us”) Maintaining adequate altitude in the cruise phase of flight is one of our critical margins of safety as pilots. Low level maneuvering flight (below 1000 feet) usually comprises only 15% of our exposure as pilots but is where over 70% of fatalities occur. Loss of control accidents are disproportionately represented in this phase of flight. If you add intentional radical maneuvers this only asks for trouble. This type of demonstration flying, though exciting, requires a highly trained professional pilot and a aerodynamically robust high-G machine. This precise and demanding flying should be left to airshow pros! There is no way a new pilot should be flying an LSA in this manner.

And as Steve Pope of Flying Magazine has pointed out, marketing this kind of low level “yank and bank” flying as an obtainable and safe activity is scary to many veteran pilots.

Pope said “the plane itself is great,” but he had concerns about Halladay, a new pilot with little flying time, taking the craft out over water at low altitude, though the plane was marketed as a craft that could do that.

“They still think that that’s the way the airplane should be flown, and there are people in aviation who completely disagree with that,” Pope said. “They think you should not have a low-time pilot flying low over water. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

This kind of behavior in the hands of new pilots will certainly lead to more accidents. We will be talking about the aerodynamics and psychology of loss of control (LOC-I) this Thursday the 16th at 8PM EST with aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff and upset training specialist Rich Stowell. This livestream is presented by the FAA and qualifies participants for FAA Master Wings. As an additional incentive, our generous sponsors at Lightspeed Aviation are providing a Zulu 3 headset to be offered to a random winner at the end of the show; please join us.

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE member, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

3 thoughts on “Aviation Safety; We Can Do Better!”

  1. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Exploiting an aviation tragedy and pointing blame at the pilot before any investigation is complete. If every pilot had to pay the ultimate price for a lapse in judgement, none of us would be left flying. This post is disgraceful.

    1. I am sorry for your discomfort. I am very cautious to avoid “rushing to judgment” in aviation events like this and struggled with a decision to publish and what to say. Ultimately the perceived benefit won mostly due to the presence of numerous eye-witness reports of low “crazy” low flying and a video of the event. I am sorry, but there does not seem to be much mystery here about causation.

      I think it is important to learn from the errors of others. The Icon designer and test pilot, Jon Karkow, also perished in a crash maneuvering low: http://bit.ly/IconCrash The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident to be “the pilot’s failure to maintain clearance from terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude.” In response the company published guidelines on how to fly low more safely.

      1. From Richard McSpadden; Executive Director Air Safety Institute:

        Nov 13, 2017

        The recent Icon A5 tragedy may have another unfortunate consequence, beyond the tragic loss of a remarkable man, Roy Halladay. The accident will stress the Icon company and put an exceptionally well-designed aircraft at risk of an unfair reputation. Icon set out with a mission to build the safest light sport aircraft in the world, and from my recent flight experience, it appears they achieved that and more, perhaps designing one of the safest aircraft in any category. Icon is working to broaden the aviation market and unfortunately for the industry, those efforts may be stunted due to recent accidents.
        Icon Founder and CEO Kirk Hawkins is a driven Stanford graduate with an impressive military flying background and a brilliant vision to expand general aviation by appealing to a new cache of adventurous, spirited potential pilots, much like the kind of people flying appealed to at the dawn of aviation. Icon’s strategy is helpful to general aviation and if successful, will infuse it with new participants, taking advantage of FAA sport pilot rules which open general aviation at reduced cost and regulatory oversight. General aviation needs this kind of infusion.
        From limited information and public videos, probable cause in the Halladay accident will likely stem from him not fully appreciating the dynamics of low altitude (LOWAT) flying. LOWAT flying demands constant awareness of “time to impact”, influenced by speed, altitude and aircraft attitude. Minor distractions are exaggerated into significant risks because of reduced time for recognition and recovery before ground impact. Concepts like “time to impact” and responses like “climb to cope” are essential parts of the subconscious when flying LOWAT. Most general aviation aircraft, including the Icon, have an added challenge of relatively limited engine power, which reduces the ability to escape exaggerated pitch attitudes and large sink rates. To their credit, Icon requires transition training before aircraft delivery, which includes some LOWAT training, and Icon recently published a well-thought-out piece on LOWAT flying, providing some guidelines and considerations.
        Icon may need to expand LOWAT education and perhaps infuse their training programs with methods to instill a culture and a mindset among Icon pilots that respects the demands of LOWAT flying, while still promoting the fun and adventure. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Hawkins will have to assess whether or not he has the right mix of instructor cadre to conduct expanded training optimized for general aviation pilots, who have varied training backgrounds and are constantly managing time and funding constraints.
        About a decade ago, Cirrus had a troubling accident rate and the reputation of the aircraft suffered despite significant safety enhancements. Cirrus responded, redesigning training and working with the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) to change the Cirrus culture and help pilots adapt and take advantage of the aircraft’s safety features. Icon will need a similar response to learn from this year’s tragedies and establish a culture that promotes the thrill of flying in the LOWAT environment, while instilling a respect for “time to impact” among an adventurous breed of general aviation pilots.

        Richard G. McSpadden, Jr.
        Executive Director

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