by Parvez Dara, ATP, MCFII, MEI (and our SAFE Treasurer)

Did you make a mistake today? If you said no. I would beg to differ. We make tiny errors in our daily lives that go unnoticed all the time because they are mostly isolated and of little consequence. The adage is “To err is human.” And to err is universal and seemingly inevitable also.  But here is the hard question, “Are mistakes always a bad thing?”

To answer that question, we may have to ride the train backwards in time. During WWII planes were falling from the sky. More lives were lost from mistakes than from enemy aircraft shoot-downs.

We obviously learned from those mistakes. The total fatal aircraft accident rate in the United States declined dramatically over time from 1959 when the fatal accident rate was 1 in 100,000. As 2016 became history the fatal commercial aircraft accident rate declined to an astonishingly low rate of 1 per 10 million flights. Imagine the log reduction in loss of life! A proof worth hanging your hat on. Education about Loss of Control, Fuel Management, Decision Making and Judgement were the important improvements to bring the number down. Yet if we were to look at airline safety data from 2009 (without jinxing anything) there has been a zero-accident rate in the seven-year period. That is incredible!

The General Aviation Accident Rate per year however is a different story. It is presented below and is based on the NTSB data available to date. The higher rate of fatal accidents in the general Aviation Community is partly because of lack of professionalism, single pilot operations and the “bold pilot” mode of thinking.

YEARS GA Accident Rate/100,000 GA Fatal Accidents GA Fatalities
FY10 1.1 272 471
FY11 1.12 278 469
FY12 1.09 267 442
FY13 1.11 259 449
FY14 1.09 252 435
FY15 0.99 238 384
FY16 0.91 219 413

So, let me get back to the issue of is “To Err” a bad thing?

The answer is a qualified NO. However, with a caveat, to repeat an error made by others, which has been used as a learning event, is definitely a bad thing. It is important to know that the NTSB data was created out of bent metal and loss of life. Errors made by expanding the envelope of flight teach us what not to do. Though it’s never easy to admit these mistakes, “fessing up” is a crucial step in learning, growing, and improving.  The FAA rules are created based on the NTSB information for pilot’s personal and his or her passenger’s safety and based mostly on the erroneous adventures of others.

The FAA has in place a NASA form just for this purpose. If you make a mistake or believe you might have, it is important to fill out the form and send it along for record keeping. The form is evaluated based on ATC tracking data and if no intentional errors were made, the pilot receives a response in kind. If however, there was an error committed, the pilot has protection by self-reporting of the error. This is the whole basis for a Safety Management System. A pilot is forgiven for any errors committed over a three-year period. A continuous flow of errors however point to the pilot’s competency and decision making that might require a rehabilitation and remediation strategy. Read the monthly intake here.

Electronic submission here, ASRS Form available below

Assuming you are in a hurry and wish to fly for a $100 hamburger with impatient passengers tapping their toes. Allowing them to influence your preflight decisions to not drain the fuel or check the oil content, hazards will loom in that flight. These risks may remain only as risks and not bite you or your passengers, but the “kick the tire and light the fire” does have adverse consequences if repeated. And one day, when all the gremlins go for their “Labor Day vacation” watchout! Latest “Callback” Newsletter
Based on the FAA Fact Sheet
The Top 10 Leading Causes of Fatal General Aviation Accidents 2001-2013: 

  1. Loss of Control Inflight (see recent SAFE Livestream!)
    2. Controlled Flight into Terrain
    3. System Component Failure – Powerplant
    4. Fuel Related – contamination, starvation or exhaustion
    5. Unknown or Undetermined
    6. System Component Failure – Non-Powerplant
    7. Unintended Flight in IMC
    8. Midair Collisions Low
    9. Altitude Operations
    10. Other

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there! If you are not yet a SAFE 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 and fun. Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to put pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smart phone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together we make safer pilots!

About the author 

David St. George (Lifetime Member)

David St. George learned to fly at Flanders Valley Airport in 1970. Proving that everyone is eventually trainable, he became an FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor for airplanes (single and multi, instrument, and glider) and serves the Rochester FSDO as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. In this capacity, he gives flight tests at any level from sport pilot to ATP and CFI. For 25 years David was East Hill Flying Club's 141 Chief Instructor and manager. David holds multi and single engine ATP pilot certificates, with pilot ratings for glider and seaplane and several jet type ratings. He recently earned his 13th renewal as a Master Instructor and owns an Aeronca Champ so he can build hours for that airline job!

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