IPC Dilemma: Is the system broken?

There is a new FAA NPRM out with reduced currency and training requirements; “Save money, Easier!” Is this the correct course or is safety being compromised? Here is a reprint from the SAFE Magazine a few years ago by accident investigator Jeff Edwards

As an aircraft accident investigator, I have seen pilots come to grief due to fundamental IFR flying mistakes that occurred within a short time of passing an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC). The IPC is supposed to be a comprehensive review of all of the Practical Test Standard (PTS) tasks. So how could these pilots perform so inadequately so soon after the accident pilot demonstrated PTS proficiency to an instructor?

The answer is, maybe they didn’t, really. In some cases, reviewing logbooks as part of the investigation showed that the IPC omitted required material from the PTS checklist. In other accident investigations, 21st century technology tells the tale. Crosschecking the accident pilot’s logbook with a recovered GPS navigator datacard or with ATC records (via FlightAware) reveals that instrument approaches logged during the IPC (or as part of the pilot’s currency requirements) were not actually performed. Where does that leave the CFI who gave the endorsement that fell short of the PTS standards? And for pilots who falsify logbook entries, how does it them?

As a CFII, I have seen my share of flight review and IPC candidates. When a pilot calls to schedule an appointment, I ask about flying history, including instrument currency and proficiency. Occasionally, pilots will tell me they are proficient but not current. On further questioning, they admit to not having flown any instrument time in well over a year. Yet they still believe they are proficient. There certainly is  a mismatch between their skill level and their belief system. This is dangerous.

When put to the task under the hood it is obvious that their instrument skills are very rusty from disuse and would be dangerous in actual IMC. Some are put off when I decline to endorse them for an IPC. I explain that they must meet all of the PTS requirements set for their level of certificate.

When pilots call me about regaining instrument currency after a lapse in IFR flying, I explain that they will not likely pass an IPC on their first go. I go over the differences between currency and proficiency. Since I have adopted that proactive policy I have not had an unhappy client after the flight, whether or not they earned an IPC endorsement.

Instrument proficiency is a perishable skill that needs constant practice and refresher. If you do not practice instrument flying skills regularly you may end up in a situation where you cannot hand fly the aircraft while in instrument conditions. This could be deadly. According to AOPA survey data, the average pilot is flying 60 hours a year. This amount of flying is likely not enough to maintain your instrument skills, particularly if you are using the autopilot for a majority of that flight time. Currency and proficiency are critical to maintaining a pilot’s skills – especially instrument flying skills. Instructors who grant IPCs for pilots who are not proficient to the level of test standards are placing their client – and their own careers – at risk. For example, I am the President of the Lancair Owners and Builders Association (LOBO). I recently had a conversation with Nationair, an aviation insurance broker and our insurance partner, and we realized that some of our members may not be getting all of the training and documentation required by the carrier. There are only a handful of insurance underwriters that insure the Lancair IVP and Evolution, and 2008 was a bad year for accidents in Lancairs. Some insurance companies were not renewing policies, so the following year we drafted the LOBO training program and convinced the industry to underwrite Lancair owners who participated in this training.

Believe me, this was not an easy task. Unfortunately it has come to our attention that a few individuals have told their insurance company they have completed the training when in fact they have not. If you take LOBO training and complete all of the training you will be issued a LOBO training certificate that you can forward to your insurance company as proof of training. Without that certificate, your insurance coverage may be compromised.

With advances in computerized avionics and the easy availability of historic air traffic control records, pilots and instructors are well advised to maintain scrupulous standards when it comes to currency and IPC performance.

Please “follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute. We need more articles 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 fun (How about $66 off your annual ForeFlight subscription?)

Safety Culture: Friends Don’t Let Friends Fly Stupid!

You probably detect a similarity between this title and the alcohol awareness program “Mother’s Against Drunk Driving”. If you are younger than me, you may not even be aware of this program’s existence since MADDgraphic“sober driving” is now the accepted cultural norm. Now we use designated drivers and “friends don’t let friends drive drunk!” Unfortunately this was not the case in my teenage years when drunk driving was almost a locally accepted sport. MADD was founded on September 5, 1980, in California by Candace Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. This highly commendable movement ultimately created such a new awareness that drunk driving is culturally unacceptable and morally reprehensible. In my opinion, a similar awakening would be a great improvement in aviation safety if we could similarly curtail our highly prized “freedom to do dumb things” and leverage a new aviation safety norm.

We all have seen other pilots do amazingly stupid things in planes (as we also have certainly done some dumb things ourselves). When someone hurts or kills themselves in a plane, it often is not a “surprise” but an “inevitable result” sometimes after years of drifting into increasingly unsafe practices. Though we in aviation all have a wonderful respect for personal freedom and the privacy,  it often prevents us from intervening and saying something even when safety is clearly compromised and the results are predictable and preventable. I highly prize and defend personal freedom, as you probably do, but I think here it is time to make a change in what is “acceptable.” We all have the potential to make bad decisions and should appreciate a “nudge” toward safety. Even the famous aerobatic performer Sean Tucker publicly shares how Bob Hoover approached him after watching one of his early airshows, put an arm around him and advised a little more safety margin in his routine. Sean says this was a necessary and ultimately welcome intervention that later saved his life after an unexpected mechanical difficulty.

PilotTemptationSo if you see a clearly unsafe action, I would ask you intervene and compassionately suggest a safer course of action. How about we tell our fellow aviator (in a careful, gentle way) we would like to have them around as a friend and point out  that their current trajectory is not conducive to survival. I believe friends should not allow friends to do unsafe things in aircraft…we can all can benefit from this caring intervention. We can create a safety culture and watch each others’ backs (See “Brother’s Keeper” in Air Facts)

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 10.32.37 PMAnd better yet, if you are proactively safety minded, I would encourage you to arrange a group of like-minded friends to voluntarily join in a “safety net.” This prearranged group of pilots who empower their buddies to oversee their operations to assure safer operations and “no bad days”. In Part 135 charter flying, nothing moves without the sign-off from the “director of operations.” This required oversight and additional set of eyes assures that all the pieces are in place and we have managed all the risks before dispatch. The amazing safety record of charter flying is the enviable result of this oversight. Of course, for GA we certainly do not need this level of regulation and formality. But what if you have an agreed group of flying friends who are available to cross check each other. If an operation is edgy you call for a second opinion (or perhaps a co-pilot to help) and mitigate the risk. Create your own “safety culture.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 10.27.31 PMIf we build voluntary safety nets to proactively address risk and empower our fellow aviators to cross-check and “nudge” fellow aviators toward safer operations, I think we can move the needle on aviation safety. Freedom is precious, but too much “freedom” (as in the freedom to hurt or kill yourself in a plane) is not worthy of protecting (at least in my opinion). Our industry suffers a continuous black eye from the very public loss of pilots and innocent lives in repeatable, predictable accidents. As a flight school operator I hear from too many in the door how unsafe “little planes” are. We can fix this!

Please “follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and please write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute. We need more articles 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 fun (How about $66 off your annual ForeFlight subscription?)

Get Ready! New FAA Knowledge Tests June 13th

The new ACS Testing Standard Is Here!

This is an urgent notice to all pilots currently in training to complete your knowledge test soon.  On Jun 13th the new ACS (Airman Certification Standard) knowledge tests go live on the computer testing sites for private, commercial and instructor level certificates. If you have trained with the old knowledge testing bank of questions, you should try to complete your FAA knowledge examination before that date! The new questions will be entirely unique and will also not be available before the test to study (or memorize).

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Ultimately, we all know this is the correct method of testing true understanding of a subject at the correlative level. Ideally, you should know the subject matter in it’s entirety and the questions should accurately reflect your understanding with a grade point reference. The pilot training process was broken and that is what the ACS is designed to repair.

Not only was the historic rote memorization game a broken system of evaluation, the material it tested was hopelessly outdated. There will be no more non-movable-card ADF questions and more focus on GPS and relevant information. The FAA has provided a list of now deleted subject areas here. Moving forward you will have to know your material thoroughly to test well, memorization at a rote level will not be available.

NewACSTestQuestionsThere is whole pilot test prep industry built around the current questions and the preparation of pilot test applicants.  This will be in turmoil until the new testing system becomes a known challenge. The FAA provides sample test questions on their ACS website and the private test sample is here. Best of luck!

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun ($66 off annually on your ForeFlight subscription anyone?)


Important Decision Making Skills!

Thanks to author Parvez Dara, SAFE Treasurer, Master CFI and ATP-rated pilot.

Consider this logic; “I think therefore I am.” Rene Descartes was the father of those words and yet everything we do seems to come from this simple phrase. Our thoughts become actions and then those become habits and they eventually develop our character.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 1.34.32 PMSo let us look at it in matters of aviation safety. Two pilots from the same household develop differing characteristics of behavior. One is judicious in thought and action, careful in planning and argues within himself all observable points of view with an eye towards flexibility due to changing environments, thus creating various scenarios and plans of action. The other pilot is laissez faire. He gets up, looks out the window at the sun peaking though the clouds and heads to the airport. He is our “kick the tire and light the fire, barnstormer.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 1.34.04 PMThe logic of decision making is based primarily on information. Asymmetry of information is the main reason for our first pilot to have deliberation over multiple plans of action. He deals with the Boolean logic of “If this then that.” The barnstormer cares not a wit about information per se. He believes he is the epitome of an aviator and the sky is his oyster. So to each, thought is his own way.

Both these pilots are borne of the discovery and justification process. The discovery of biases and the justification to do things. The careful pilot has turned information into knowledge and understanding, while the barnstormer is, shall we say more about his own fully developed sense of “greatness,” then any sense of reality.

While the former takes in all the available bits of data and compiles them into a cohesive sense of the environment, both past and future, the latter has built within himself the fire-walls of confidence rich in confirmatory bias.

Ah I am glad you asked about confirmatory bias. Basically if you do something repetitively and it works, you consider that as a successful and repeatable enterprise. Not withstanding Taleb’s “Black Swan” effect the barnstormer can go on for a finite period of time with that bias lingering within him, until one day the ailerons fly off the hinges. An example would be a pilot who scud runs. As he continues to press on while the cloud ceiling lowers the boom and confirmatory bias continues to ride the wave, until one day the pilot mangles himself on a cell tower or becomes a statistic of a CFIT (obscured mountain). This happens quite a few times a year unfortunately. Justification of actions are a human mechanism steeped in hubris and confirmed through the passage of time by similar acts of carelessness. Its like the teenager who after watching a video of an expert skateboarding champion decides he can go down the rails on flat concrete surface, only to break some young bones in the process, trying to up the ante down a steep staircase.

On the other hand the careful pilot looks at the weather briefing diligently, has acquired the instrument rating, is always instrument proficient and even then takes into consideration the weaknesses of his own skills with “what if scenarios.”

How do we make decisions?

Carefully with as many pieces of information as are available!


Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow has explored the idea that we have two internal systems in our brain that are often in conflict during the decision making process. System 1 is a knee-jerk type, quick on the pedal to the metal with little reverence for the condition of the equipment or the environment. System 2 is a more careful, slow, methodical and judiciously employed consideration of all available pieces of information that go in to making a decision.

While System 1 is more of the emergent nature that triggers the frontal lobe of the brain into quick-firing of electrical stimuli, System 2 is the careful process that takes into account from the temporal, visual, auditory and parietal lobes of the brain before committing the fire from the frontal lobe. So in essence with deliberate care.

Which is correct?

If you have to ask that question as a pilot then, I suggest, you take some classes to govern your impulsive, hazardous attitude.

The old story about that, “there are no old, bold pilots!” is a truism. There are only the methodical careful ones that define the risks, mitigate as many known hazards as possible and only then undertake an action.

Conquering space did not happen because someone decided to tie a rocket on their back and lit the fuse. It happened because of hundreds of scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, physicists and a few brave astronauts took on the arduous task of understanding space.

Pilots are not all pioneers in space. Most of us are just pilots. There are a few aviators among us, not mere technicians in flight, who understand completely each motion as they are strapped into the seats of an aircraft flying at many hundreds of miles per hour across space.

Understanding natural science and the design of science that are created to embark through that nature is as important as knowing when to apply the force on the rudder to prevent a slip and when to create a slip in flight.

Decisions are made continuously in life. We decide what to buy or sell, to go to a movie or read a book, to cook a meal or dine out. All these decisions have a precedent of understanding and need to fulfill. Similarly flying has a precedent and need. The need however must be met with an equal tincture of understanding of the surrounding space and its vagaries.

All flights are possibilities and as they proceed in space and time, they become probabilities and then are added to the ledger of understanding based on the information gleaned from those flights after they become certainties. These flights then become the justification for future ones. It is equally easy to fall into the trap of hubris as it is into the comforts of a carefully crafted methodology. Therefore it is important to learn about good habits from others and discern about bad habits. Accident cases abound in the aviation literature, most (80%+) point to the pilot actions as the cause of aircraft accidents. One would even consider the number higher. But then I digress.

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How do we avoid falling into the Kahneman’s System 1, knee-jerk, barnstorming trap?

  1. Develop good safe habits through practice.
  2. Employ careful and methodical instructors to give skill and sound procedures.
  3. Create a log of all flights outside of those in the logbook, detailing each flight and reflecting on errors for future correction.
  4. Critique every flight and what was learned from each.
  5. Gently point out to other’s bad habits (you might save their lives one day).
  6. Rash car drivers make bad pilots.
  7. Egocentric machoism is dangerous to a pilot’s health.
  8. Keep learning. Get all that aviation certification has to offer. Get an instrument rating if you are a private pilot, a commercial ticket and go all the way to the Airline Transport rating. Then consider sea pilot rating, Soaring, Upset training, etc.. All these fill your bag of tricks when one day, you might need them. Never stop learning!
  9. Always emulate good behavior.
  10. Do not drink and fly (Consider more than 8 hours from bottle to throttle, because you as pilot might be a slow metabolizer of alcohol).
  11. Consider the FAA’s IMSAFE (Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue and Eating) before each flight.
  12. Have fun, fly safe…then you live to fly another day (the important part!)

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment worthwhile fun ($66 off annually on your ForeFlight subscription anyone?)

Sign The Aviation Professionalism Pledge!

Please commit to an attitude of aviation safety by taking Tony Kern’s challenge and signing his Aviation Professionalism Pledge. No matter what area or level of aviation you are involved with; piloting an Aeronca 7AC or a Gulfstream G4, maintenance, dispatch or controlling aircraft, please join us and sign this pledge. We need to create an industry awareness that professionalism at every level matters! By handling your aviation duties in a professional, disciplined manner you will enhance your safety and greatly benefit our whole industry! Signing and posting your commitment (an attractive pdf certificate) you will help spread this message and push this vital issue into daily awareness. Safety requires discipline and daily commitment to excellence from all of us.

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Dr. Tony Kern is an very compelling author that any committed pilot will appreciate reading. His Flight Discipline and Rogue Pilot and  are already classics.

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He runs a private consulting firm Convergent Performance that provides training and products to enhance aviation safety and increase pilot professionalism. A sample of his Pilot Reliability Certification training (very good and FREE) is available here:

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 1.06.09 PM“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

Addressing I-LOC: More Training?

Author Randall Brooks is a SAFE member with Aviation Performance Solutions and President of the Upset Prevention and Recovery Training Association (UPRTA)


I was talking with another pilot regarding the general state of airmanship in the piloting profession. It brought to mind the distinction between the pilots we think we are, versus the skills we actually possess.

Loss of Control In-flight (LOC-I) clearly sits on the top rung on the ladder when it comes to fatal accident causes. Across the board in airline, corporate, and general aviation, more people die from pilots losing control of an aircraft in flight than from any other single cause. Yet LOC-I remains a relatively invisible threat that most pilots do not appreciate.

A large international corporation that comes to Aviation Performance Solutions for Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) recently evaluated the safety hazards affecting its flight operation. One executive questioned the expense of UPRT under the assumption that mid-air collisions posed a greater threat. This company’s flight operations involve hundreds of aircraft worldwide and had experienced two mid-airs in the previous year. As harrowing as a mid-air collision is, there had been no fatalities associated with these two. However, during the same period, the organization experienced five fatalities due to LOC-I.

The problem is that unlike the persistent presence of the mid-air threat, the rare yet catastrophic nature of LOC-I means that it may never be appreciated until it suddenly appears in the form of a fatal upset accident. Why is this?

The Small Aerodynamic World We Live In!
The Small Aerodynamic World We Live In!

One reason is we are highly unlikely to lose control in the region of the flight envelope in which we normally fly. Proficiency within the normal flight regime gives no hint at what lies beyond the boundaries of our everyday operations. But in those regions beyond the threshold of an in-flight airplane upset, situations can escalate amazingly quickly into aerodynamic regions and behaviors that are not at all common to flight within the normal envelope. These situations require quick responses, but to the pilot unfamiliar with the all-attitude/all-envelope domain, reactions will become slower rather than faster. The brain is called upon to process confusing information in an unfamiliar environment. Accident statistics provide evidence of this cognitive impairment that can accompany a LOC-I accident.

This author participated in a study that was published through the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in 2012. Titled “Unexpected Pilot Performance Contributing to Loss of Control in Flight (LOC-I)”, the analysis focused on fatal airline LOC-I accidents worldwide from 2001to 2010. Among the four factors evaluated was whether or not the pilots acted in a reliable and predictable manner when confronted with an unexpected airplane upset event.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 7.22.14 AMIn a startling finding, all 16 accidents for which data was available revealed that the pilots reacted in a way contrary to how common training practices should have prepared them to react. This does not indicate a few pilots with weak skill sets. Rather, it suggests a systemic deficiency in the way today’s training prepares pilots to react to unanticipated airplane upsets.

It is important to note that the knowledge, skills, and abilities of pilots in the normal operating envelope are no indicator of success in safely or effectively navigating the unfamiliarity of an airplane upset event.

Because there is little time or opportunity for creative thought beyond a certain threshold of upset escalation, the only way to mitigate this rare but potentially catastrophic situation is through pre-emptive, comprehensive UPRT. This is why the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is calling for the amendment of pilot licensing standards to include on-aircraft UPRT for all pilots, worldwide, prior to Commercial Licensing. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is fast-tracking this proposal and hopes to have a requirement for UPRT in place next year.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 7.22.41 AMWhen implemented in the future, the requirement for universal UPRT prior to receiving a Commercial Pilot certificate will ensure that in the face of an airplane upset event all pilots should possess the skills needed to execute recovery when the threshold for prevention has been exceeded.

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

KISS, and Tell – Avoiding LOC Can Be Simple

From our magazine: Written by the amazing Jim Alsip, MCFI and tail wheel specialist in Florida.

slip-skid-indicator-bylineLoss of Control (LOC) has been all too common in recent years, and is currently the leading cause of deadly accidents. I am pleased that the major aviation magazines are addressing the subject in articles and comment; the FAA is concerned; and I am especially encouraged that the membership of SAFE is showing leadership with this issue.

At the same time, I am frustrated that the resulting commentary is showing the all too common signature of “group think.” For example, the current FAA paper on LOC mentions almost every aspect of the pilot condition. It seems everything contributes to LOC. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive cause, so the pundits are short on direct and effective solutions. It seems to me that discussion of the fundamentals is blatantly omitted from the conversation. What I do not see is the big KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle showing up in current pontifications about LOC.

Can we all agree that fundamentals, by definition, always apply? Can we also agree that in an emergency, pilots fly like they trained. They respond in accordance with habits? Those habits can be good or bad. In an emergency, the way a pilot responds is either correctly done, or improperly done.

You might say the fundamentals of flying an airplane are not simple. That’s a big subject, and someone could write a book on it (and I did — Artistry of the Great Flyer – A Pilot’s Guide to Stick and Rudder and Managing Emergency Maneuvers). Still, the fundamentals as they apply to LOC are not complex. I’ll bullet point my arguments:

  • In the discussion of LOC, it is implied that the pilot is maneuvering, frequently at low altitude. Loss of control typically involves stall-and-spin incidents.
  • To avoid LOC, a true flyer (as opposed to just a “pilot”) need master only two fundamental dos and don’ts: do control yaw; and do not stall.
  • I suggest too many student pilots are not learning to be flyers; in that they are not learning the fundamentals. Pilots who did learn might have forgotten and/or developed bad habits that negate fundamental skills.
  • Every student pilot and every current certificated pilot should know how to recognize and recover from accelerated stalls. They should practice accelerated stalls frequently.
  • Student pilots must learn to recognize and control yaw. Essential to this task is correctly using the sight picture for attitude awareness. I continue to be amazed at how “good pilots” do not understand how the sight picture can be used for attitude information. Maybe we should return to yesteryear and re-name the attitude indicator an Artificial Horizon.

Teaching the fundamentals to student pilots is essential to keep them safe throughout their flying careers, but to reduce LOC accidents among existing pilots, we need to help them build and retain good habits – that means practice. I suggest that simply teaching pilots to properly turn an airplane is one solution to saving lives lost to LOC. Too many instructors teach only shallow bank angle and constant-rate change of direction maneuvers. When you repeatedly practice maneuvers incorrectly, you become proficient at a bad habit.

And there is one maneuver that encompasses all the fundamental aspects of flying an airplane. If only we would teach all pilots to learn — and practice — proper turns, like this:

  • Use rudder and aileron together. Teach use of cadence to develop that skill – say aloud “on it – off it” as you use rudder and aileron together to establish desired bank angle. Proficient pilots will be comfortable with fast roll rates (lots of aileron).
  • Elevator should be neutral when inputting aileron. Premature application of back elevator pressure is a “killer” bad habit. I have flown with way too many pilots who always “pull’’ as they roll.
  • During a level turn, once established in the bank, aileron and rudder become neutral. Then use elevator if needed, to control loss of lift. This is another area of misunderstand among pilots. Too many pilots never learn that sometimes (often?), the need for up elevator is a result of an uncoordinated roll.
  • Release any elevator back pressure before rolling out of a turn with “top rudder” and aileron.

Do you get the connection? A proper turn, recovery from an upset, recognition and recovery from a spin. If pilots know the fundamentals and develop good habits in executing turns, their skill intuitively avoids LOC. And should they succumb to LOC (for example; upset from wake turbulence) intuitive control inputs from the acquired skill will direct the airplane to an immediate and safe recovery.

If the FAA and their associates in academia are serious about reducing LOC accidents, they can easily and quickly establish standards that require students to be “flyers” before they train to be pilots. Back in the day, that concept was called basic training.

Keep it simple, stupid – control yaw and don’t stall.

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

Essential Safety: Determining PIC

By Chris Hope, MCFI and 2015 National FAASTeam representative of the year.

Whos-Flying-copySo, you’re flying with a friend in their aircraft. Although you have more total time and experience, it is their plane and they have a lot more experience in it than you have. The ATIS is calling for some strong, gusty crosswinds at the destination airport, but you continue, anyway. After a rather scary landing, you say to each other, “I never would have done that by myself, but I figured you knew what you were doing.” Hmm.

Or maybe this: Your buddy is flying from the left seat, when you notice that he seems engrossed in his iPad. You notice the plane has wandered off course and altitude a bit, so you nudge it back to wings-level. Your partner notices, but doesn’t say anything. After a while, you again notice it’s off, and you correct again. Then, a few minutes later Center asks if you are on the heading and altitude you really want. And the two of look at each other and say, “I thought you were flying.”

Here’s another one: maybe most pilots don’t know that a flight instructor without a current medical can still administer a flight review. The FAA, in a bit of logic understood by no one, maintains that flight instruction is totally separate from…flying. And using this logic, a CFI can exercise the privileges of his CFI certificate even though he might not be legal to exercise the privileges of his pilot certificate. Under this thought process, a CFI can give instruction as long at the person receiving instruction can legally act as Pilot-in-Command (PIC). This scenario usually comes into play when a pilot, still within his 24-month flight-review window, asks for a flight review. Under th0se circumstances, the CFI can conduct the review.

This was the situation that one CFI saw. A pilot he knew asked for a flight review, and he knew that he personally could not act as PIC. The pilot knew that the CFI did not have a current medical, but he did not consider the ramifications further. The CFI knew that the pilot knew that he did not have a medical, but he assumed that the pilot was legally current in the plane. Both thought the other was PIC. OOPS!

All of these situations have one common thread that can lead to a deterioration in safety, “Who is in charge…who is PIC?”

According to FAR 1.1:

Pilot in command means the person who:
(1) Has final authority and responsibility for the operation and safety of the flight;
(2) Has been designated as pilot in command before or during the flight; and
(3) Holds the appropriate category, class, and type rating, if appropriate, for the conduct of the flight.

Note that nothing in this definition relates to actually manipulating the controls.

FAR 61.51, on the other hand, deals with logging PIC time, and it states in part, that a person can do so:

(e) (i) When the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated, or has sport pilot privileges for that category and class of aircraft, if the aircraft class rating is appropriate;

So there is a bit of conflict between who logs PIC time, and who acts as PIC. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s concentrate on “Who’s in charge here?”

First of all, who has “the final authority”, and who has been “designated as pilot in command?” I think that when two pilots fly together, the topic does not usually come up, because one or both are embarrassed to bring it up. After all, when you declare who is PIC, that’s who will be responsible to the FAA and the insurance company when things go wrong. And secondly, you are agreeing that in an emergency, one of you will be telling the other what to do. Could be touchy.

I often see the situation myself when I fly as an instructor in my student’s plane. We decide the PIC question on a case-by-case basis. If my student is legally qualified to act as PIC, and we both feel that he is competent to act as PIC, generally we agree that he will be PIC. If, on the other hand, I am conducting a checkout or a flight review for a pilot who is really not comfortable with acting as PIC, I will take on that role. (And whenever I fly another person’s plane, I ensure that I am covered to act as PIC by his insurance.) In either case, before we walk out to the plane together, we settle the question. Note that establishing who is PIC does not mean that the non-PIC is supposed to sit back and be a spectator when the situation deteriorates. But the designated PIC is the final authority on the course of action. Need to swap roles in flight? No problem. Just make sure that both of you agree.

Then, there is the question of who is actually in charge of manipulating the controls, and this can be the occupant of either front seat. Obviously, the person who is actually flying needs to be qualified to do so, but again, both of you need to agree on this. A simple solution – This conversation:

“Would you take the plane for a minute?”
“Sure. I’ve got it.”
“Right. You have the flight controls.”

Then, when you are ready to take the plane back:

“OK, I’ve got the flight controls again.”
“Roger, you have the flight controls”
“I have it.”

A little communication goes a long way. Go Forth. Fly safe. Have fun.

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

Chris Hope has taught flying for more than 40 years. He holds flight instructor certificates for single-engine land and sea airplanes and multi-engine land planes, as well as for instrument training. He holds ground instructor certificates for advanced and instrument training. Chris is an FAA Gold Seal Instructor and a Master Certified Flight Instructor and is the 2015 National FAASTeam representative of the year.

Understanding Pilot Fatigue

Be mindful of fatigue; this slow insidious dread that has caused many a pilot to lose their way.

Fatigue, is the final frontier in our modern too-busy lives. No, seriously, from that threshold nothing is achieved, nothing improved and nothing is gained. Only problems ensue.

Definition: “Fatigue is a condition characterized by increased discomfort with lessened capacity for work, reduced efficiency of accomplishment, loss of power or capacity to respond to stimulation, and is usually accompanied by a feeling of weariness and tiredness.”

It is a burnout, or feeling tired…minor change in mood, energy, or sleep; the lowest reaches of wellness. Fatigue is a symptom of your brain reaching a point of dysfunction…a large spectrum of dysfunction. The spectrum ranges from momentary blips on the radar of simply needing a break, a catnap for instance, or needing to eat lunch, to more severe, devastating, life-altering, neurodegenerative disorders of complete exhaustion…Yikes!

There are two kinds of Fatigue:  Acute (short-term) and Chronic (long-term).  Short term acute fatigue is easily cured by a sound sleep and is a normal daily occurrence. The chronic fatigue however has deeper psychological roots and causes significant psychosomatic ailments, which can lead to long term disability from debilitation. Some of these include: tiredness, heart palpitations, breathlessness, headaches, or irritability. Sometimes chronic fatigue even creates stomach or intestinal problems and generalized aches and pains throughout the body and even depression. Self-help cures in these circumstances are rare.

Above all, when in the throes of chronic stress, don’t fly!

Let’s look at some of the common issues encountered: sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, apathy, feelings of isolation, annoyance, increased reaction time to stimulus, slowing of higher-level mental functioning, decreased vigilance, memory problems, task fixation, and increased errors while performing tasks. Fatigued individuals consistently underreport how tired they are, as measured by physiologic parameters. No degree of experience, motivation, medication, coffee, other stimulants, or will power can overcome fatigue. Nine hours into his 33-hour flight, Charles Lindbergh wrote in his journal that, “…nothing life can attain, is quite so desirable as sleep.”

A special kind of fatigue that can afflict a pilot with profound ramifications is “Skill Fatigue.” Skill Fatigue involves two main disruptions:

  • Timing disruption – Performing a task as usual, but with the timing of each component is slightly off, makes the pattern of the operation less smooth and fluid. There is a higher chance of disruption in finishing the task.
  • Disruption of the perceptual field – You concentrate your attention upon movements or objects in the center of your vision and neglect those in the periphery. This leads to loss of accuracy and smoothness in control movements. The effects are magnified in high task saturated environments eg. turbulent weather in instrument conditions.

Other symptoms include: memory fog (where did I leave my keys), difficulty following instructions, lowered retention, lack of motivation, tire easily, poor focus, emotional meltdown and psychosomatic pains and digestive complaints. And while it is felt in the peripheral muscles as weakness it is a central dogma arising in the brain; Brain (Central Governance Model-CGM) generates the sensations of fatigue during exercise (MIND OVER MATTER) – Fatigue is a Brain-Derived Emotion that Regulates the Exercise Behavior to Ensure the Protection of Whole Body Homeostasis. ( Timothy David Noakes,* Front Physiol. 2012; 3: 8)  While initially fatigue causes a reduction in muscular force, the brain executes a second phenomenon of fatigue as a sensation. The central psychical station influencing the peripheral muscular network might appear as an imperfection, yet it is an extraordinary perfection of support and self-preservation.


Imaging brain fatigue from sustained mental workload: An ASL perfusion study of the time-on-task effect. Julian Lim et.al. NeuroImage 49 (2010) 3426–3435

Fatigue as a phenomenon has been extensively studied by the FAA in Commercial Pilots flying over multiple time zones and the Rules require mandatory rests crossing over 4 time zones and 8/9 accumulated flight hours. (Prevalence of fatigue among commercial pilots Craig A. Jackson 1 and Laurie Earl 2 Occup Med (Lond) (June 2006) 56(4): 263-268.)

The current regulations are:

“The new regulations, which don’t apply to cargo pilots, require that pilots get at least 10 hours of rest between shifts. Eight of those hours must involve uninterrupted sleep. In the past, pilots could spend those eight hours getting to and from the hotel, showering and eating. Pilots will be limited to flying eight or nine hours, depending on their start times. They must also have 30 consecutive hours of rest each week, a 25% increase over previous requirements.”

We must remember that the ultimate risk of pilot fatigue is an aircraft accident and potential fatalities, such as the Colgan Air Crash that occurred in early 2009 (http://aviation.about.com/od/Accidents/a/Accident-Profile-Colgan-Air-Continental-Connection-Flight-3407.htm)

What is the ultimate antidote to Fatigue?  Answer: SLEEP.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts for pilots and surely-bonded- land-lubbers to live by:


  1. Be mindful of the side effects of certain medications, even over-the-counter medications – where drowsiness or impaired alertness is a concern.
  2. Consult a physician to diagnose and treat any medical conditions causing sleep problems.
  3. Create a comfortable sleep environment at home. Adjust heating and cooling as needed. Get a comfortable mattress.
  4. When traveling, select hotels that provide a comfortable environment.
  5. Get into the habit of sleeping eight hours per night. When needed, and if possible, nap during the day, but limit the nap to less than 30 minutes. Longer naps produce sleep inertia, which is counterproductive. 6. Try to turn in at the same time each day. This establishes a routine and helps you fall asleep quicker.
  6. If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, get up and try an activity that helps induce sleep (watch non-violent TV, read, listen to relaxing music, etc).
  7. Get plenty of rest and minimize stress before a flight. If problems preclude a good night’s sleep, rethink the flight and postpone it accordingly.


  1. Consume alcohol or caffeine 3-4 hours before going to bed.
  2. Eat a heavy meal just before bedtime.
  3. Take work to bed.
  4. Exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime. While working out promotes a healthy lifestyle, it shouldn’t be done too close to bedtime.
  5. Use sleeping pills (prescription or otherwise).

Fatigue is a slow inebriation of senses and its harm lies menacingly in the wings. Early recognition and prevention is the key to flight safety!

“Follow” our blog to receive notification of new articles and write us a comment please if you see a problem or want to contribute. Write us also if you have an article to contribute on aviation excellence or flight safety. Most importantly, please Join SAFE and support our mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.

FAA Restores Aviation “Sim” Time!

FMX_2Training time credited by the FAA for flight simulation devices is a moving target caught in a web of regulatory confusion. Even the names and levels have been changed continuously as this process has evolved. Finally, the new rule will be published today April 12th, taking effect on May 12th with a strong move in the right direction. The FAA has restored the 10 hours of credit for BATDs (Basic Aviation Training Devices) and 20 hours for AATDs (Advanced) previously permitted by manufacturer LOAs. Time with a professional educator on even a modestly priced machine can provide a wide variety of challenges unavailable in flight with much greater efficiency, economy and safety. SAFE has advocated continuously for greater “sim” time credit.

ATC-610-CopySince the 1970s, the FAA has gradually expanded the use of various forms of flight simulation for training. The venerable ATC-610 with realistic “steam gauge instruments” was a mainstay for training all kinds of approaches. Computer based training devices have dramatically expanded the realism and also the utility of these devices with companies like Mindstar even networking devices into a virtual environment (demonstrated at the Pilot Proficiency Center at Oshkosh last year). The realism of the new hardwareFMX_1  is exceptional with motion incorporated in models from Redbird, Frasca and many other progressive manufacturers. SAFE has led the charge for approval of increased simulation credit and we are proud our proposal to the FAA is quoted extensively in the current NPRM. Flight simulation provides a huge opportunity for aviation educators and a superior, less expensive, training environment for clients at all courses and levels. For both initial and recurrent flight training, increased FAA credit for simulation is a huge win.

Incidentally, the requirement for a “view limiting device” was thankfully dropped in the most recent rule (can’t see the ground anyway!) The FAA NPRM again mentioned helpful input from SAFE. Also, per 61.51 (g)4 you do need an “authorized instructor” (we presume that would be a CFII) to observe and sign your logbook to log legal training time or maintain currency. There was lots of confusing interpretations circulating but the recent legal letter of interpretation makes this abundantly clear.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.11.14 AM“Follow” this blog to receive notification of new articles. and write us a comment. And please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun.