Avemco Pilot Talk Webinar Series is Over (For Now)
We had a great time putting together and conducting the recent webinar series. We hope that those of you who participated got some valuable take-aways. We want to thank our guest presenters, Kurt Kleiner, Layne Lisser, and Shawn Benson. Additional thanks to Layne for serving as a moderator and managing the Q&A for most of the events. Of course, we want to also thank Avemco for their financial support which made the series possible. Avemco has agreed to support another edition of the webinar series beginning in September 2020.
Most of the webinars in the series were recorded and are posted on YouTube. The videos, plus all our other videos, can be accessed through our videos section on our website. Click here to visit that page.
Save the Date: Saturday, September 12, 2020
Beginning with the Northeast, we will be producing Virtual Aviation Safety Stand Downs for various regions in the U.S. The events will be produced by Bright Spot, Inc. and will benefit our Safety Initiative. We will feature presenters with interesting topics, sometimes general or sometimes appropriate for the region. Participants in any these events will be eligible to earn all three FAA Wings credits at the basic level.The events will be free to attend. We are presently seeking sponsors. Any companies, organizations, or individuals interested in becoming a sponsor should contact either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We will provide more information as it becomes available. For now, just save the date!
Don't Let Your Allergies Kill You!
This is the season when many people are bothered by allergies and look for a means of relief. Unfortunately, far too many fatal aircraft accidents are likely caused by pilot impairment from diphenhydramine which is the active ingredient in several OTC allergy medications. It is also the active ingredient in several sleep aids. For several years now, the NTSB and the FAA have been sounding the alarm about this highly impairing sedative.
I review every fatal GA accident in the U.S. and diphenhydramine impairment is often listed as a causal factor or at least as a possible causal factor. This is only stated for accidents in which the pilot did not survive. toxicology testing is only done on deceased pilots. We wonder how many accidents in which the pilot does not die are not have been caused by the impairment from the drug.
So please don't let your allergies kill you. Comply with the NTSB recommendation which roughly translates to avoid flying for at least sixty hours after the most recent dose of any medication containing diphenhydramine. Still skeptical? Here are links to the NTSB reports on four recent accidents: WPR18FA091 CEN19FA177 WPR18FA095 ERA18LA083
We Can Do Better!
The FAA Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) System publishes a report each weekday on aviation accidents and incidents from the previous day. On Mondays, the report includes events from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. During the height of the pandemic, the number of accidents and incidents decreased to the low single digits. However, now that more flying is happening, the numbers appear to be climbing dramatically. The disturbing trend seems to be in the highly preventable incidents, such gear up landings and runway excursions.
A six-day sampling of June 12-17 provides perspective. After removing data regarding airlines, crop dusters, helicopters, and bird strikes, there were 46 accidents/incidents remaining. Eight of those were simply listed as gear up landings. Another five involved the gear collapsing upon landing while three cited ground looping on landing. One simply stated that the airplane crashed while attempting to land. The winner was eleven events which stated that the airplane veered off the runway on landing. Not related to landing were two fuel exhaustion events. The remaining were miscellaneous events such as, "clipped a tree and crashed into a wooded area," "on departure aircraft clipped a tree and made a forced landing into a parking lot," "taxiing for departure went into a ditch," "nose baggage door fell off on takeoff," " lost half the propeller and later the prop," and "while hand starting the prop, started and moved forward hitting a telephone pole."
I know we can do better than this as a pilot population. If you are reading this, you are someone who takes safety seriously and puts forth an effort to always be better and safer. Let's remind or pilot friends about the basics of being safe. We do not know the specifics of any of these events, but the use of checklists and preflight planning would probably have prevented most of the events on the list.
Checking the ASIAS list every weekday can be a real eye-opener. Click here to see the most recent post.
New Aviation Instructors Handbook Issued
The FAA has released the newest version of the Aviation Instructors Handbook. Like previous versions, it does a nice job of presenting information that instructors need to know regarding human learning and human behavior. You might find at least parts of it interesting and valuable, even if you have no aspirations to become a flight, ground, or maintenance instructor. My academic colleagues will hate me for this, but it condenses the practical aspects of a master's degree in education to one compact handbook. The free PDF can be downloaded from the FAA website here.
More on Collision Avoidance
For those of you who attended my webinar, “Avoiding the Midair Collision” or watched the recorded video, you might recall that I began by saying that there was much more to discuss about the subject than could be addressed in one hour. One scenario that was not discussed is very appropriate for this time of year. That is our attendance at or participation in a fly-in event.
Any event that attracts a substantial number of aircraft creates a collision hazard. Hazards create risk and risk needs to be mitigated. It would be nice if we could gather all the pilots together and discuss traffic pattern procedures, radio procedures and etiquette, and collision avoidance principles. We cannot do that and we cannot regulate nor predict the competency and the attitudes of the pilots who will show up. That means that we must assume the job of mitigating the risk ourselves. We must assume that all other pilots are incompetent and have dangerous attitudes. Of course, this will not be true, but it is our best defense against the risks.
We should expect that pilots will be flying non-standard traffic patterns, not making position reports in the pattern, not be scanning for traffic, and maybe even doing a bit of hot dogging. We need to make sure we are at the top of our game and always ready to take evasive action if necessary.
I also want to discuss another aspect of our vulnerability to having a midair collision. My personal experience, as well as discussion with other pilots, has revealed a very dangerous time during some flights. That time is when transitioning our communications from a radar facility to a local control frequency or vice versa. It does not matter whether the local control frequency is a control tower or a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF). During the webinar I told of a personal experience when I nearly collided with a Bonanza while instructing in a Beech Duchess. We were maneuvering and the Bonanza pilot was inbound to the airport. He had been receiving flight following and had been advised of our presence, including our altitude by ATC. He told ATC that he would look for the traffic and he was told to contact tower. We were monitoring the tower frequency and heard his radio call seconds after he nearly collided with us. We were operating in a designated practice area in which ATC did not provide flight following due to the large number of training flights in the area. I suspect that as soon as the Bonanza pilot was told to contact the tower, his attention went to tuning a radio or some other pre-landing task.
Also during the webinar, I analyzed a fatal accident in which a Cessna 172 collided with a Piper Seneca. Both airplanes were on training flights. The Seneca crew had just been given a frequency change after departure and the Cessna crew had made the initial call to ATC. A traffic advisory was being issued to the Cessna as the collision occurred. Immediately after the webinar, I was contacted by a pilot who told of a similar situation in which he had to take evasive action to avoid a collision.
The risk of having a midair collision is real. The risk assessment matrix would ask us to identify the severity of having a midair collision and I think we would all choose “catastrophic.” It would then ask us to identify the likelihood of having a midair collision. Our choices range from “improbable” to “remote” to “occasional” and finally to “probable.” Most of us would choose “improbable” if we are operating in an area with little traffic or if we are to be in a busier area but under constant radar control such as in Class B airspace. Our assessment would change if we were operating in an area with many airplanes, pilots with varying proficiency levels, and little or no traffic control. We might choose “remote” or maybe even “occasional.” That would change our risk assessment from the “medium” area to either “serious” or “high.” We do our best to mitigate the risk by recognizing the inherent limitations of “see and avoid,” and taking steps such as reviewing visual scanning techniques, studying procedures at the airports involved, being diligent about making appropriate radio calls on the correct frequency, keeping all exterior aircraft lights illuminated, maintaining sterile cockpit procedures when appropriate, and other things.
Being aware of heightened levels of risk and taking steps to mitigate the risks goes a long way to being safer. Please remember, always fly like your life depends on it.
Accidents discussed in this section are presented in the hope that pilots can learn from the misfortune of others and perhaps avoid an accident. It is easy to read an accident report and dismiss the cause as carelessness or as a dumb mistake. But let's remember that the accident pilot did not get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go have an accident today." Nearly all pilots believe that they are safe. Honest introspection frequently reveals that on some occasion, we might have traveled down that same accident path
Any fly-in event that attracts a substantial number of airplanes poses increased collision risk and additional measures to mitigate those risks are necessary. This Young Eagles event on September 27, 2014 at Lancaster, New York did include such measures yet a midair collision occurred. The pilot and the Young Eagles passenger, a 14-year-old boy died when the Cessna 172 they were flying in crashed as a result of the collision. The pilot of the other airplane, a Searey, managed to land the airplane off-airport, avoiding injury to himself and his Young Eagles passenger, a nine-year-old girl.
As for collision-risk mitigation measures, the NTSB report includes the following: “A route of flight for the event was established and briefed, and the pilots were instructed to make position reports over the airport’s common traffic advisory frequency at certain landmarks along the route of flight; however, no procedures were in place to account for the disparate operating characteristics and speeds of the aircraft participating in the event.” The NTSB report also includes this additional information: “According to the vice president of the local EAA Chapter, each airplane participating in the event was assigned a discrete transponder code in coordination with the control tower at BUF; however, none of the airplanes were in contact with, or receiving any services from, the control tower.”
As for the details of the collision, the NTSB report states, “Radar and GPS data showed that the Cessna overtook and descended to the altitude of the Searey as the Searey climbed slowly. During the last moments before impact, both airplanes were depicted at the same altitude and in close lateral proximity. The Searey pilot was unaware that his airplane had collided with the Cessna, but upon experiencing control difficulty, performed a forced landing to an area of thick vegetation. The Searey was substantially damaged during the landing. Immediately after the collision, the Cessna entered a descending spiral to ground contact.”
The NTSB probable cause places most of the blame on the Cessna pilot. In the accident report issued for the Cessna, the probable cause is stated as, “The pilot’s failure to maintain an adequate visual lookout for known traffic in the fly-in event traffic pattern, which resulted in a midair collision.” In the accident report issued for the Searey, the probable cause is stated as, “The other airplane pilot’s failure to maintain an adequate visual lookout for known traffic in the fly-in event traffic pattern, which resulted in a midair collision.”
The simple fact is that there are inherent risks in the “see and avoid” practice that we cannot totally mitigate away. The NTSB accident report includes the following: “A performance radar and cockpit visibility study determined that the Searey would have remained a relatively small and stationary object in the Cessna’s windscreen, appearing below the horizon and just above the engine cowling, for several minutes before the impact. The study also determined that the Searey may have been difficult to distinguish against the background of terrain. Additionally, since the airplanes were on a converging course, the Searey would have presented little relative motion to the other pilot, making detection more difficult. The Cessna would not have been visible to the Searey pilot because it approached from an area that was obstructed by the airplane’s structure.” Even if a pilot had no tasks to perform other than looking for traffic, a scenario such as this might still result in a collision. When we add the tasks involved in flying the airplane, plus the likelihood of providing explanations to a young passenger, traffic vigilance was possibly reduced.
This accident, like some other midair collision accidents, differs from many of the accidents that we analyze in that nobody did anything egregiously wrong. As far as we can determine from the NTSB report, there were no violations of the regulations. Both pilots failed to see and avoid, but the NTSB report explains the difficulties that each pilot faced in accomplishing that. The event organizers established a route of flight and included landmarks for check-in over the CTAF. A preflight briefing was conducted for participating pilots.
Flying airplanes poses risk and flying in the vicinity of, or participating in, activities that increase the density of aircraft at a particular location adds additional risk. Our job as pilots is to do our best to mitigate risks to the extent practical. We analyze accidents not to criticize the decisions made by others, but rather to learn how to better mitigate risk as we go forward. In that spirit, here are some possible mitigation strategies to consider.
For event organizers:
Prepare for this activity with the spirit and intensity that military or professional pilots prepare for a challenging mission. Become as proficient and knowledgeable as possible before the event. This would include:
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