We Should Examine Pilots’ Risk Tolerance

As I was preparing a safety program during one of EAA Chapter 180’s Wings Weekends, I realized that very little progress, if any, has been made in reducing the accidents caused by poor decisionmaking. Over the years, I have often wondered why we haven’t made much headway in this area.
Several years ago, Jim Stokes, with the Columbus (Ohio) General Aviation District Office (GADO), gave a recurrent training program to instructors at FlightSafety International at KCMH. King Schools had recently released its program on Practical Risk Management For Pilots, and we took part in the course as a group.
I found it very interesting to learn that general aviation flying safety statistics equaled those of riding a motorcycle. And further, when airline pilots fly general aviation aircraft, their safety records are no better than the rest of the flying population. Why would this be? Could it be that once an airline pilot is away from the restraints of airline flying, i.e., dispatchers, Operation Manuals, Co-Pilots, they become subject to the pressures that affect the rest of us not-so-high-flying humans?
It seems to me that we have been attacking this problem from the wrong angle. We have been trying to show pilots that a reasonable and rational course of action will lead to better results. But are all pilots rational? I submit that many are not, at least when it comes to operating equipment that may be dangerous. Look at how far some pilots will venture into bad weather instead of turning around and waiting for another day.
So with every one agreeing that the problem is a lack of safe decision making skills, why aren’t we giving more thought to pilots’ propensity to take chances. We know that it takes a very special person with all the confidence in the world to be a pilot. Is it this same confidence that allows him to take chances others will not?
I propose that we change our strategy. Instead of teaching to the group as a whole, perhaps we should be more direct and push for both a self-examination and a critical review by one’s peers.
Perhaps we need more training as flight instructors to recognize risk takers. We certainly need better reporting by the NTSB. After an accident involving poor pilot judgment, the NTSB should interview a minimum number of friends and relatives to ascertain the pilot’s attitude toward risk.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 24, 2016

    David St George

    Testing the comment box at SAFE Magazine: 03/24/2016…are you reading me MARK??

Leave a Reply