Increasing Non-Compliance = Accidents!

Most FAA regulations are “written in blood.” First, someone did it wrong and died. Then, if a trend reveals itself, the FAA writes a rule to guide future behavior (for those that follow the rules). This is simple “never do this” like mom and the hot stove – bad things can happen and it hurts.

Though we usually delve into training and proficiency issues in this blog, this is an obvious billboard-sized safety message. Following the SOPs and regs is a clear path to long life and health as a pilot. If someone already dug a hole and died doing it wrong, I personally do not feel the need to replicate that experiment. Remember also, the FAA methodology is prescribing the regulatory minimum -what’s legal- not necessarily what’s safe. Pro tip: exceed the regs and establish a margin of safety for the surprise events.

This pilot had no medical and the Skyhawk was out of annual with know deficiencies.

The NTSB found the plane was out of annual, and the pilot didn’t have a medical certificate. Neither legality caused the accident, but were both safety checks blown past.

Unfortunately, statistics reveal pilots are increasingly ignoring FAA guidance – there seems to be a growing lack of compliance in aviation. Following the rules was once a badge of honor in the aviation industry, but increasingly the fashion seems to be how much can we get away with. Aviation depends largely on compliance since there are no “sky cops” at every corner to enforce correct behavior (ramped lately?) Usually, violations only become apparent when a plane crashes. And they only get the NTSB focus when innocent passengers die.

Currently, 59% of fatal accidents reveal prohibited drugs in the pilots’ bloodstream. To be fair, these are often over-the-counter “impairing medications,” but the upward trend in aviation is horrifying; it seems everyone is on some kind of pill or drug. Here is some good guidance, and the FAA publishes clear and helpful guidelines. The full NTSB report is here.

As educators, we deal with all levels of non-compliance and “pilot attitude repair.” In most cases, the bad behavior can be remedied with a positively framed caution or reminder. But if a person is a repeat offender (like Bill Rhodes’s “Scary Pilots“) we owe it to our aviation community to get out the accident reports and demonstrate “you resemble this scenario and it does not end well.” And some people should not be in charge of high-powered mechanical equipment in a populated area; off the island!

Regarding maintenance, there seems to be a disturbing increase in GA aircraft maintenance negligence. Not only is our aircraft fleet incredibly old, but pilots also seem to be ignoring required inspections (like the accident cited above). Data here is scarce and admittedly this is a personal observation. Flight instructors on the front line are the first to see these problems in the field. The NTSB focuses on “transportation accidents” where non-pilot passengers are injured or killed. Their recent focus on Part 91 revenue flights reveals some horrifying trends. Rules for annual inspections and regular maintenance are there for our safety and need to be respected and followed conscientiously. Regs and SOPs are the low-hanging fruit in the safety equation. Fly safely out there (and often)!

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Author: David St. George

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

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