Pilot Responsibility; Continuous Improvement!

If you are a pilot, congratulations! All that work to acquire the skill, knowledge and judgement is quite an accomplishment. But for everyone that holds that role there is an ongoing responsibility to keep learning and improving. Being a pilot is not a static “one off” achievement but involves a continuing mandate to improve. To be safe in aviation we must work every day to improve our skills and awareness. And a lot of that learning is about ourselves, how we react to situations and what we can do to be better; the pursuit of excellence. We manage risks with every decision we make, and the consequences may be huge for even very small choices.

The recent Watsonville mid-air collision is an example of how two pilots can die horribly by small choices they make. In this August accident, just before #OSH22, both pilots were aware of the other’s position and intentions, and they still ran into each other! How many times are accidents like this *avoided* by simple pilot actions? Every little choice we make as pilots may determine life and death; that awareness is the key to safety. We need to practice and disseminate better risk-management skills; decision-making. Please watch this excellent AOPA production.

For flight instructors reading this, please share and teach these lessons.”What ifs” and other’s misfortunes inform our learning and improvement. Terrible outcomes like this can often be easily avoided by simple choices. The overall awareness that terrible consequences are possible and close at hand is part of this lesson too. As a recent blog pointed out we pilots operate in a “high consequence environment” but often are unaware of the risks. Awareness and small choices tilt the balance toward safety and a much better outcome. 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.

3 thoughts on “Pilot Responsibility; Continuous Improvement!”

  1. Thank you for this blog. I don’t think we can talk about this one too much. Unfortunately turning in front of a faster airplane is an extremely consequential decision and you may not have the opportunity to learn from the experience. Generally, the emphasis initially is put on flying a perfect pattern and making calls on every leg, and assuming that straight-in traffic will give way to traffic established in the pattern. However that puts inexperienced pilots in a vulnerable position – they usually don’t have the skills yet to judge distances and closure rates, or to establish a conversation with the other pilot. Initially, until that skill set is developed, I think the emphasis should be on an automatic extension of the downwind whenever someone calls on a straight-in.

  2. Thanks for posting the video and the safety lesson. Just like driving a car defensively, it is important to fly an airplane defensively. It was shocking to see the tragedy unfold as each pilot communicated but did not really have a good understanding of the danger until it was too late.

  3. I am in training for my private pilot license. I had this exact scenario happened to me a couple days before this accident. I train out of an non-towered airport that has a fair amount of jet traffic. The jets almost always fly a straight-in approach.

    Just as the student in this mid air collision, I was doing pattern work. On my downwind leg, a Citation radioed he was 10 miles out on final, landing on 27. I was approaching my left turn to base. As Warren Webb stated earlier, and it is true, I didn’t have the “skills yet to judge distances and closure rates”.

    I felt very uncomfortable maneuvering to land in front of a faster jet.

    So I made my radio call and told the citation pilot I would fly an extended downwind and land behind him. He said thank you, and we both landed without incident.

    I think it is important for CFI’s to train students to always take the safest course of action until you have many hours inflight to aquire excellent judgement skills.

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