Bad Boys, Bad Boys

by Pierre J. Moeser, MD

Recently, I gave a presentation to the St. Louis Chapter of the Missouri Pilots Association (MPA). The topic was “Emergency Landings Due to Engine Failure.” After the lecture and to my surprise, two pilots (names withheld) admitted to me that they had found themselves in engine trouble while airborne due to their own negligence. In one instance, the pilot did not maintain his airplane properly and in the second case, the pilot did not manage his fuel situation.
While I listened to these two admissions of guilt, the theme song from the TV show “Cops” played in the back of my mind.
Bad boys, bad boys,
Whatcha gonna do,
Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
The problem with an airplane accident is that who “comes for you” is often not the NTSB nor the FAA. It is APS Ambulance Service, Baue Funeral Home, your next of kin, etc.

How do we get ourselves into such situations that could have been prevented? Often, the answer is one of the Five Hazardous Attitudes. To review, the Hazardous Attitudes are:

1. Anti-Authority: regarding rules and procedures as unnecessary.
2. Impulsivity: the need to do something immediately without considering alternatives.
3. Invulnerability: the belief that accidents only happen to others.
4. Macho: attempting to prove superiority to others by taking risks.
5. Resignation: the belief that the outcome of any event is simply a matter of chance.

Let’s look closely at one the most common hazardous attitudes, Invulnerability, and the mathematics behind the flawed thinking of “it will never happen to me.”
The reality is that aviation accidents sometimes end in death. The preliminary FAA estimate for the year 2017 is a general aviation (GA) fatal accident rate of 0.84/100,000 hours flown. This accounts for 209 fatal accidents with 347 fatalities. You may calculate your risk of dying in a GA accident by multiplying the hours you fly in a year by 0.84/100,000. If you fly around 10 hours per month, your fatality risk is only 0.1%. Not bad, you think. However, for an aviator included in that 0.1%, the fatality rate is 100%. Unless the fatality rate is zero, someone will perish.

So, how do we improve our odds? Preparation, evaluation, and practice. We must prepare and evaluate ourselves as pilots overall, and at the time of every flight. The same evaluation applies each and every time to the aircraft that we fly. We need to know the flight environment for every flight. External pressures must always be calculated.

Bonus points for those of you who recognized the Personal Minimums Checklist known as PAVE (Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, External pressures). More on that checklist in a later article.