The sooner you come to the conclusion that you are fully capable of killing everyone on your aircraft, the sooner you’ll start saving their lives.
You and I as pilots are not and will never be perfect and void of mistakes. By learning from the mistakes of others, and watching our own thoughts and behaviors at all times, we can avoid the unthinkable.
In light of recent event involving Asiana Flight 214, which crashed in San Francisco, I wanted to point out why it’s unfortunately not a surprise that this happened. And why we should be slow to judge the pilots as being inherently incompetent or inexperienced.
Instead, let’s look inward and investigate some of the own traps we can get ourselves into.
Now for the 3 E’s
“I have the experience”
As we pilots progress through our careers, we no doubt become more experienced in our craft. We feel a deep connection with the aircraft, we can argue the smallest of details for hours, and we can execute procedures with the utmost precision.
Experience has two things it can teach us. First, it can teach us many details that will add to a body of wisdom, which inherently, it will do. Experience for some can also mean a false confidence in the skill and experience. This is where experience starts to become a crutch for some pilots.
Some pilots use their experience to question themselves more than ever before, speak up sooner, and react faster to break the domino effect that can catch the best of us.
Fewer pilots rely on that experience as some sort of ‘all access pass’ to do things that are counter to the wisdom they will have gained.
Experience does not give permission for a pilot to fly more dangerously or closer to the edge of safety. Good pilots (most pilots are by nature good pilots) use experience to fly further from the edge, cross check themselves more, communicate more effectively, and continue building their knowledge.
“I have the knowledge”
There are many different levels of education when it comes to aviation. Are you trained in Part 61 or Part 141? Were you trained at Embry Riddle, UND or a community college? Did you learn to fly from a family friend who is a long time bush pilot in Alaska, or did you learn from a seasoned airline pilot that has flown to exotic places you’ve never heard of?
I will be the first to admit that there is a big difference between going to a major university and studying aviation for 4 years, and just getting a license down the street from the local airport. This sort of education does count for something.
That said, education should not be used as a crutch. Although our lot may be improved by getting better initial training, knowledge is subjective in many cases. Just because one pilot has an opinion about something, and perhaps the education as a credential, it doesn’t mean that he/she is correct.
Above and beyond how educated a pilot is, it’s the continuing education throughout their career that matters. How are they continuing to learn and grow, even while having thousands of hours of flight time? How are they continuing to question the knowledge they already have, relearn basics, and continue their studious path?
We would all do well to remember that a great educational background isn’t a crutch. The guy that learns to fly from a bush pilot and the one that learns to fly from an airline captain may learn vastly different things. At the end of the day, both have the potential to be incredible pilots, and also the unfortunate handicap of being human and born to make mistakes.
In other words, education isn’t a free pass- It is a continuous and ever evolving journey all pilots must take.
“I have the equipment”
In recent years, as incredible technologies have made their way to single-engine aircraft, you would think that safety would have been increased. But, if there is any increase in safety, it is marginal based on recent studies.
One of the traps pilots get in is trusting and relying on their systems to the extent that they start taking more risks.
We can get ourselves in the mindset that because we have these tools, we can fly closer to the edge of safety. I’m certainly not suggesting we sit on the ground and avoid any kind of risk- that is impossible. Risk will always be present. I’m simply saying that these tools should be used to give us a clearer picture, especially while airborne, of our ever-changing situation.
There is also the argument that pilots are becoming too reliant on automation, like autopilot and other systems. I would say that this is actually a valid point that we need to address in aviation.
Are we capable of taking over the aircraft at any time, and performing the maneuvers without the autopilot? Are we aware at all times what the autopilot is actually doing, or should be doing? As a result, do we truly know how to monitor the systems?
Most pilots are trained well in this area, and understand the basics of checking the FMAs and visual cues on the EFIS. However, less trained individuals may simply be pressing a button and entering an autopilot mode they aren’t entirely familiar with.
This is particularly present in virtual aviation, as virtual pilots are rarely trained in the basics- or at a basic private pilot level. In our Aviator90 course here at AOA, we’ve received countless feedback suggesting that the common flight simmer doesn’t know the basics of flight. This is concerning when these guys are operating in an environment like VATSIM or PilotEdge, where you are expected to act professionally.
What’s more concerning is that they may not know simple concepts like pitch trim, how to flare an aircraft, and VOR usage, but they are flying 737s, MD-11s, 777s, and other similar simulated aircraft- which I may add are very close to their real world counterpart.
There is a real difference between virtual and real aviation, however- virtual pilots don’t have any lives at stake.
We can all learn to use our automation and GenX instrumentation to our advantage to increase safety, or our disadvantage to take more risk. The choice is truly ours to make.
Automation and Equipment can be both a blessing and a curse.
I don’t bring up this subject because I believe the pilots of the recent Asiana 777 Flight 214 crash are too confident in their experience, education or equipment.
During all these events, rather, I am keenly aware that I too am completely capable of making mistakes as they did. And I know that it is the same for all other pilots, whether they would like to admit it or not.
My heart goes out to the pilots of this fatal flight. Can you imagine the pressure? The constant questioning? And who cares what others think- would your own personal guilt not be tormenting your soul?
I am on the side of the pilots. In my opinion, I do believe they were at fault. But I do NOT believe they were bad pilots, undertrained, overly confident, or somehow incompetent in any way. They made a mistake- simple as that.
Rather, I see several individuals that were highly trained, educated and experienced on all levels beyond myself.
And that makes me realize I too could make these same mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong- I think that experience, education and equipment all play a huge role in separating the average from the elite aviators.
That said, if there is one thing we are to learn from recent events, and tragic accidents of the past, it is that humans are either to blame for the fateful event, or to thank for averting disaster.
We are both flawed and heroic, all in one round.
It all boils down to how we choose to work within the 3 E’s during our career.
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Were any of these tips particularly useful to you? What do you watch out for when learning to fly?
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