“Recent Experience” Rules Safety!

If you study any safety statistics, the one solid correlation in every data set determining safe outcomes is “recency of (correct) experience.” This relationship continues as you drill down to include make and model and builds with all relevant conditions -night/weather etc. (until you cross the line into complacency). After the recent pandemic, we are all less current than we should be (and consequently less safe) and there has been a lot of conjecture about the consequences of “rusty pilots!” Safety in the current environment requires adding wider margins to our operations and simultaneously perusing retraining as we regrow the industry and tune-up our skills; every pilot is somewhat “rusty.”

We now have actual data on “rusty pilots” from the recent 2021 Bombardier Safety Standdown . Manual handling incidents (the first skills to deteriorate with disuse) are up a shocking 1000% according to pilot reporting system data. This is a huge jump.  SAFE member Paul “BJ” Ransbury’s talk at the stand down, cites this data and offers solutions. Paul is CEO of Aviation Performance Solutions offering state-of-the-art upset training (free course here). Only savvy (appropriately cautious) operators with increased safety margins have prevented the same increase in accident statistics. Every pilot would be wise to similarly increase their personal minimums as we sharpen our skills. Every pilot needs to engage in some personal skill and knowledge building.

One of the known statistical accident buffers is represented in the “Heinrich pyramid.” This theory basically states that only a small percentage of “unsafe actions” results in “serious injury or substantial damage.” This is due largely to luck and circumstances – not a responsible barrier.  Basically, Heinrich’s Law turns “Murphy’s Law” on its head and says “most of the time we get away with unsafe actions.” The unfortunate result (re: Heinrich) is that “getting away with it” can reinforce unsafe behaviors and build BAD habits. In aviation, solid, relevant training is the only solid antidote to rust – not just “experimentation.”

in a workplace, for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries.

As GA pilots the FAA SAFO 17007 cited by Paul in his talk is unfortunately of little help, since this document mostly deals with larger flight departments with safety managers with bigger programs. In GA we are responsible for our own “safety program.” Though every pilot should dig into the stand-down talks, a more relevant target is the FAA WINGS and AOPA Focused Flight Review syllabi. As you progress further try some SAFE Extended Envelope Training with your CFI. We *all* need a refresher and reboot of both normal and emergency procedures. For CFIs, take a look at the FREE Sporty’s FIRC This is a very generous gift from Sportys (and yes you can extend your CFI *before* it expires) Tune up your instructional knowledge along with your skills. A good pilot/CFI is always learning- fly safely out there (and often)!


Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a 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 (1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues).

Clarify FAA “Warbird Adventures” Ruling!

Very limited application of this ruling!

A recent court decision has upheld the FAA’s “cease and desist” order against “Warbird Adventures.”  This ruling lets stand an interpretation that threatens the historic role of CFIs as “educators” and will have a negative effect on all flight training (and aviation safety). This action has left CFIs confused and at risk from the greater future liability of “flying for hire,” along with potential regulatory and medical consequences.  Needless to say, this case has cause a firestorm in the aviation media.

Most importantly, initial legal analysis, provided by AOPA, indicates that CFI certificates (and flight instruction in general) are not directly or immediately at risk. But the recent Warbird Adventures ruling decision was overly broad.  Though targeting a specific case of flight instruction in a P-40, WWII military aircraft, this court case has damaging effects on every CFI.  In this particular case, this P-40 was operating in the “limited category” which prohibits flight for “compensation or hire” under CFR 91.315 without an exemption. The FAA ordered this to stop, but in our opinion, applied the wrong enforcement – reinterpreting flight instruction as “flight for hire.”. The FAA has a long legal precedent supporting CFIs as “educators” *NOT* flying for “compensation or hire.” This new ruling needs to be clarified immediately.

Click, copy and SEND this letter!!

The biggest concern is “downstream consequences” of what this action could imply in future interpretations about legal liability, charter regulations, and medical requirements. The ‘obiter dictum,’ a legal phrase for ‘remark made in passing,’ could upset the FAA’s long-standing policy that CFIs are paid for their instructional expertise, not for flying for hire. SAFE sent our objection to the FAA protesting this ruling and we encourage you to copy this, customize it as necessary and send it as well: E-mail to Mr Bahrami  here.

We at SAFE, representing over 3600 flight educators, urge the Agency to expedite a final ruling preserving the instructor’s historic role as “educator” and not “charter pilot.” Adopting the broader interpretation implied in this court’s recent decision would create irrevocable harm to our industry and diminish aviation safety.

The FAA’s historic legal position on CFI as “educator” not “compensation for transportation for hire” is very clear:
The FAA has determined that the compensation a certificated flight instructor receives for flight instruction is not compensation for piloting the aircraft but is rather compensation for the instruction. A certificated flight instructor who is acting as pilot in command or as a required flight crewmember and receiving compensation for his or her flight instruction is exercising only the privileges of a private pilot. A certificated flight instructor who is acting as pilot in command or as a required flight crewmember and receiving compensation for his or her flight instruction is not carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire, nor is he or she, for compensation or hire, acting as pilot in command of an aircraft.
This same “CFI loophole” came to mind recently when I was at Sun ‘N Fun observing CFIs flying their students from all over the country to Sun ‘N Fun “for training.” Was the purpose really “flight training” *or* “a trip to the show” in Florida for fun? Can any CFI fly any person anywhere (and charge for it) and designate it “flight instruction?” Can a pilot buy a jet and “give instruction” ferrying people to Florida in the winter? The FAA will probably be defining the limitations for what is legal instruction and charter. As CFIs we should not only protect our rights but also instruct responsibly, clearly following the rules. Fly safely out there (and often)!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a 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 (1/3 off ForeFlight more than pays your member dues).

The SAFE CFI’s “Most Wanted List”

There is a great frustration watching accidents repeating themselves for obvious preventable causes. Gene Benson is a passionate aviation safety educator. He analyzes every accident and recommends better practices to prevent these unhappy outcomes. In the absence of NTSB recommendations for General Aviation, Gene has creeated a list based on his extensive experience and study:

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List almost always includes some items related to small, GA airplanes operating under Part 91. The most recent MWL for 2021-2022 does not contain any items that relate to non-revenue flying. I do not believe that NTSB does not have any items for us. But perhaps they have seen little progress from the FAA on many of the recent GA items listed, so they are just giving the FAA time to catch up.

Not that I claim to have the knowledge, research assets, or foresight of the NTSB, but I decided to create my own Most Wanted List in the spirit of preventing accidents involving small, GA airplanes. My list is based on my study of NTSB accident reports. I read all the accident reports that involve a fatality or serious injury, as well as many of the reports from the accidents that resulted in minor or no injuries.

1) All pilots will understand and apply stabilized approach principles to each and every approach. Most landing accidents occur as a conclusion to an unstabilized approach. The NTSB Probable Cause may not state that the approach was unstabilized, but applying the listed conditions to stabilized approach criteria makes the case. The concept is rather simple, we memorize the criteria for a stabilized approach and decide on a stabilization altitude based primarily on the kind of airplane we are flying. If the airplane deviates from any of the criteria below the stabilization altitude we will go around or execute a missed approach. Of course, a Part B to this requires us to maintain proficiency in the go-around procedures for each airplane that we fly. Click here for more information on stabilized approaches.

2)  All pilots and (at least front-seat) passengers will be secured with shoulder restraints. All installed lap belts and shoulder restraints will be maintained in good condition. Shoulder restraints greatly improve the survivability of a crash, but also significantly reduce the chances of life-changing injuries. Relative to other costs involved in flying, the cost of adding shoulder restraints if the airplane is not already equipped is very reasonable. Additionally, all restraint systems, including belts, buckles, and attach points, must be regularly inspected and replaced if needed. Click here to view or download an FAA brochure on the subject.

3) All pilots will engage in a defined recurrent training program. Regardless of how much we fly, we still need to refresh and renew our knowledge and skills. Regulations regarding recurrent training for small GA airplanes operating under Part 91 are non-existent or at least sorely inadequate. On a scale of 0 to 10, with zero being completely unsafe and ten being as safe as practically possible, just meeting the legal requirements would put us at a score of about 1.5. And that is only if the pilot is flying the same kind of airplane as was used for the flight review. Ridiculously, regarding small GA airplanes, a pilot may complete a flight review in any aircraft for which the pilot is rated and it counts for all aircraft in which the pilot is rated. The pilot who owns and operates a Beech Baron can save some money by renting a Cessna 150 for a flight review and thereby meet regulatory requirements.

The FAA Wings program can establish a great framework for a recurrent training program provided the pilot creates a profile that accurately and honestly reflects the pilots flying. An unfortunate, but common practice is to list only airplane and single-engine land in the category and class section. Since only activities pertinent to the pilot’s profile will be generated, earning a phase of Wings may not have much meaning in the larger safety picture. Done properly, the Wings program can substantially move the needle on our safety scale up to at least 8.0.

4) All pilots will perform thorough preflight planning and engage in-flight monitoring. The airplane is not a car in which we can begin a trip with little regard to the weather and figure out our routing and fuel needs along the way. Aviation safety absolutely requires preflight planning and flight monitoring. Some of the most easily preventable crashes result from a lack of adequate planning and monitoring. Common causes of crashes in this category include VFR flight into IFR conditions, fuel exhaustion, lack of takeoff or other performance planning, and operation outside the weight and/or balance limits [The Killers]. These crashes cover the spectrum from the simplest to the most complex airplanes and from the newly certificated private pilot to the most seasoned pilot with the highest certificates and ratings.


Fly SAFE out there (and often)! Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles and also write us a comment if you see a problem (or want to contribute an article). We always need more input on aviation excellence or flight safety. There are many highly qualified SAFE members out there! If you are not yet a 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.

“Ready For Anything?!”

During any emergency, luck certainly plays a role,  but positive pilot action is the essential ingredient for success. Being alert and vigilant – having prebriefed the possible failure modes – enables successful performance by preventing panic. Psychologists call this “priming,” a mental rehearsal of all possibilities and a state of readiness. This prevents “startle” from incapacitating the pilot.  Considering all the possible outcomes *before* beginning any flight helps ensure a correct and rapid response. And during a dual flight, the CFI carries a lot of this responsibility. They are both the educator, but also (to varying degrees) in charge of safety and survival. Every CFI needs to be ready to handle the surprises illustrated below.

Here are two very similar accidents that highlight how essential CFI vigilance and proper action can be when an emergency occurs. Some details are unknown and I am not judging here. Please take a look and click on each to dig into the NTSB details. When things go bad, we will be put to the test. Being ready – primed and vigilant – usually determines the critical difference in the outcome.

“Priming” is the reason we do pre-takeoff briefings, it is the stoic attitude that assumes “things *will* go wrong. A pre-planned, fluid response should be briefed and ready to go (Code Yellow). Surprise and panic will cause startle and inappropriate action since our genetically programmed response seems to be to “pull away from the ground.” When power fails we need to be spring-loaded to “unload” (the “big push”) and keep the wings flying. Whatever we have available to us after that is better than spinning in out of control.

The fatal accident here was dual and it is entirely possible that the fairly experienced female CFI was overpowered by a panicking client (the size disparity is not clear from the documentation). Briefing emergencies (and priming) with the learner helps prevent panic in an emergency (as does a trusting relationship). But if survival becomes a “fight on the controls,” in an emergency, the CFI has to do whatever is necessary to regain control. A trick available to CFIs in most trainers is to use your foot (and the greater power of your leg) on the crossbar under the panel to force the yoke forward and reduce the angle of attack. I have twice overpowered a panicking student over-rotating the pitch (in a Cessna) by easing down the nose forcibly with my foot. When “discussion” fails, positive action is required. It is wise to practice this “CFI trick” and be ready.

"On take-off in a C-152, a student on a 'Discovery Flight' with 'long ago experience' kept pulling and over-rotated the nose (going incoherent and babbling as he pulled). The plane was beginning to mush at a couple hundred feet with the stall horn activating. I thought to myself 'this is how we die.' 

After verbally commanding a release and attempting to force down the nose with both arms, I put my foot on the control bar below the panel and eased down the pitch attitude while talking calmly to him. Once the horizon came back into view he became more reasonable and we continued the flight (practicing the 'exchange of controls' a few times...)"

SAFE is reviewing all accidents presented in the General Aviation News and offering suggestions to enable safer flying. (Subscribe here). Wishing you all happier flying than this! Get out on these beautiful spring days and enjoy some relief from the pandemic and winter weather – before the heat hits down south! See you at AirVenture in July; fly safely (and often)!


Join SAFE now and win a new Lightspeed Zulu Headset, a Sporty’s handheld radio, an Aerox PrO2 oxygen system! Every new membership, renewal or Step-Up or donation (tax deductible) through May 15th, will enter you into the spring member sweepstakes for amazing prizes.

Educator’s “Curse of Expertise!”

Expertise is the amazing, fluid performance of a complex task. An expert makes even the most complicated task look simple – and this is super frustrating when you are a student! We all admire expertise in aviation and strive desperately to achieve that kind of performance when we are learning. Ironically, however, fluid expertise can be a huge impediment to effective teaching.

As a student in any field, you have probably encountered this phenomenon before and it points out the true art of the educational process. “What’s so hard about that, you just do x,y,z!” Someone who has mastered a complex task, but is not an experienced educator, will usually not realize the many methodical steps required to reconstruct (and teach) a complex task. There is an interesting brain trick you have to understand to become an effective educator. And it is also why an expert at something is usually a frustrating teacher; “the curse of expertise.”

When any expert achieves mastery in a complex task, such as landing, this set of nuanced cues, skills and reactions gets encoded in the brain out of sight from your conscious recall. This is called “procedural memory” or “crystallized intelligence” and it is stored in the subconscious areas of the brain; the parietal lobes and basal ganglia. The actions and the associated data in many complex tasks become so automatic after continuous rehearsal, that a master performer is not aware of the steps involved; it is essentially hidden from view. After mastering a complex task, we do not have to even think about it; performance is largely effortless! This is a gift for fluid performance but makes teaching a skill you know almost impossible without careful introspection and a whole different set of “educator skills.”

Procedural memory is a subset of implicit memory, sometimes referred to as unconscious memory or automatic memory. Implicit memory uses past experiences to remember things without thinking about them. It differs from declarative memory, or explicit memory, which consists of facts and events that can be explicitly stored and consciously recalled or “declared.”

This brain trick makes the educational process impossible for many experts. And this is also why the initial CFI can be so difficult to obtain. Teaching is a whole different process from performing. To be an effective aviation educator,  it is first necessary to achieve some level of expertise in a whole set of skills. But then you also have to methodically deconstruct all these maneuvers into parts and pieces and recode this complex activity into discrete and orderly “chunks” you can transfer to a learner. Only then can you be an effective educator. Learning is certainly not “monkey see, monkey do” at the level of expertise.

The amazing psychologist who refined this process in detail for aviation was Dr. Gary Klein and it is called Cognitive Task Analysis. As fuel costs climbed in the 1970s gas crisis, he analyzed all the discrete procedural activities of fighter jet pilots. They could no longer afford to spend countless hours flying jets to acquire nuanced skills. The Air Force needed a way to efficiently capture and transfer these essential flying skills. Flight simulation technology consequently became increasingly important and effective. And the Air Force now largely uses virtual reality simulation. Dr. Gary Klein’s current passion is “ShadowBox LLC” deconstructing subject matter experts and transferring knowlege in a wide range of different fields.

One last point in this interesting comparison of educators vs performers. It is not essential in learning to find the most expert performer to be your CFI. It is much better to seek out the best educator. These are often very different skill sets and people. In addition to good pedagogical skills, empathy and compassion are essential for a good match. Fly SAFE out there (and often!)