In the first half of 2013 in the United States there were 14 turboprop accidents, of which eight were fatal accidents resulting in 15 fatalities. Two of these were in Turbo Commanders. This compares with 13 accidents and no fatal accidents during the same period last year.
A few years ago I wrote an article in Flight Levels called “The Proficient Pilot.” It described the levels of knowledge and skills needed to call oneself a proficient pilot. I wrote that a proficient pilot should have a good understanding of his or her current physical and mental health, excellent flying skills, good systems knowledge of the aircraft, and the ability to utilize crew resource management to make proper aeronautical decisions. It is time to review these concepts.
Aeronautical decision making (ADM) starts well before you board the aircraft by looking at yourself in the mirror and determining if you are ready for flight. Use the term “I’m Safe” to evaluate whether you are affected by Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, or Eating (the lack of).
Is your mind on the task of flying the aircraft and not external forces such as job or family issues? Certainly, ADM does not end when entering the aircraft; it applies through the complete flight. Preflight planning, runway conditions/lengths, selecting proper altitudes to avoid icing conditions, and determining appropriate approach facilities if a change in weather dictates are just a few of the decisions that need to be made while flying.
The FAA, AOPA, and online training providers offer many study guides that can make you an expert in aeronautical decision making. Here are some websites:
Crew Resource Management (CRM), which is integrated into most training programs and a required task during an FAA certification ride, is a skill that can be learned and practiced away from the aircraft. CRM training encompasses a wide range of knowledge, skills, and attitudes including communications, situational awareness, problem solving, decision-making, and teamwork.
CRM can be defined as a management system that makes use of all available resources, equipment, procedures, and people to promote safety and enhance the efficiency of operations. Although first established in the aviation sector, CRM has been adopted by many other occupational fields including medical and maritime. It’s also a wonderful tool to use at home.
A course in CRM could be a full two-day course or a review during your next training opportunity. For this article, a few key words are important to discuss:
- Set the tone. Whether you are flying single pilot with passengers or as a crew, establish a comfortable non-threatening environment. An example: “Good Morning, my name is Hugh” as opposed to “Good Morning, you can call me by my first name –– Captain.”
- Inquiring. Be receptive and inquire of others their opinion of the current situation, and when received be thankful of the response. Make sure that everyone feels they can ask you questions during flight. “Is there a report of icing up ahead?” “Which way are other aircraft deviating due to weather ahead?” If a crew member or passenger indicates a concern, be receptive to the comment. “Do we have enough fuel to divert?” “Careful, there is an aircraft on the runway!” The communication process should focus on what is right, not who is right.
- Knowledge. Systems manuals are a great tool, but you can also exercise your CRM skills by discussing difficult-to-understand systems with your maintenance provider or a mentor pilot. Even if you feel confident in your flying skills, you should attend a flight review course on a bi-annual or annual basis. Remember, simulator training is important but it is not certified for landing and takeoff maneuvers, so actual training programs in your aircraft with a proficient instructor are also essential.
- Mitigate the risk. In many aircraft accident studies there were links in the error chain of events that lead to the accident. Full accident reports are available on the NTSB website (www.ntsb.gov) and in AOPA PILOT and Flying magazines, and should be reviewed.
The third emphasis for a proficient pilot is to annually attend a flight review course. These may be required by the insurance company or the FAA. Many courses provide eight hours or more of systems review. At the end of the two-to-three-day course we feel pretty good about understanding the sub-systems –– powerplant, electrical, hydraulics, and so on. But if we had to take the written again a few months later I am pretty sure a lot of the knowledge base needed to be a proficient pilot would have been lost.
To overcome the normal loss of detailed knowledge I carry a systems manual along on my flights and review a chapter or two during my layovers. In addition, during flights at cruising altitude where the workload is low I review the abnormal/emergency check list.
The final criteria is flying skills. A long-time flight instructor at FlightSafety International began every course by stating that Rule #1 is to Fly the Aircraft, and Rule #2 is to Fly the Aircraft. It is as true today as it was then.
Flying skills are perfected in the simulator or during aircraft flight training, but they must be practiced on every flight every day all year long. During your flight training you hone your skills to fly an approach single-engine to ILS minimums and then see the airfield and land, or properly execute a missed approach. Can you do that today? Consider researching the FAA’s PAVE checklist to determine your personal minimums:
Just as important is your ability to manage the aircraft systems. Flying skills should be incorporated into the appropriate and timely use of the autopilot and communicating with ATC. On good-weather days hand-fly the aircraft to maintain flying skills and perfect management skills (aviate, navigate, and communicate).
In addition, build your confidence in the use of the autopilot to successfully fly a coupled approach to minimums. Setting personal minimums is a very good idea, not only for low-weather approaches but also for long duty days, night flying, and circling approach minimums.
A CEO of a major airline would compare the company and its employees to a pocket watch; if one part of the watch (hands, gears, etc.) stopped functioning the watch would not work. CRM, aeronautical decision making, flying skills, and airplane knowledge are all the parts of your watch that make for a safe flight.
Set a goal to be a proficient pilot and focus on the flying event at hand by ensuring that good crew resource management and aeronautical decision making skills are used on every flight. Systems knowledge must be continually reviewed as well as the flying skills constantly practiced.
It is time to get back to the fundamentals of flying safely!!
Hugh Davis is an active Twin Commander pilot and former FlightSafety International Twin Commander instructor.