Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 8 - Live to Fly Another Day

Changing subjects entirely for this day of Xmas: Human Factors in Aviation.
If I have one thing I'd like to see in 2010 it's for all of us who fly light aircraft to realise that it's us, and generally us alone who cause crashes, and then to act to fix that. It was this realisation that spurred the whole development of Human Factors and CRM in heavy aircraft flying. It's long overdue that we get the same benefit in light aviation. Sadly we still get human factors derived crashes in RPT operations. This recent crash in Vanuatu is an example. The pilot flew the Islander about 7% overweight and misjudged the aircraft's climb performance and its clearance from a ridge. Realising that he would not clear the ridge he slowed the a/c and tried to land amongst the heavy timber. The pilot and one passenger died and there were some serious injuries amongst the other pax. Weather does not appear to have been a factor.
I think that, at the initial and commercial training level, too much emphasis is placed on "human factors" such as how your ears work and how altitude affects us. Not enough emphasis is placed on decision making, situational awareness and threat and error management.
Try this: think of the last 3 aviation accidents that you have personal experience of or which you know well. Now ask yourself "what was the underlying cause of that accident?" I think it will be a salutary experience. Rarely if ever will the primary cause be structural or mechanical failure. Yes engine failures do happen. But a fair proportion of those are due to things like fuel starvation or exhaustion - both almost always down to human factors.
One recent ATSB report appears at first glance to be a structural failure. However closer reading suggests that other factors, human factors, probably played the major role.
I can't think of a single crash that I have seen or known about that wasn't driven by the person at the controls.
To understand that is really important. It means something vital for my safety and for your safety: If we are the cause of our crashes, then we can do something about not becoming a statistic. If we change the way we manage threats and errors and we enhance our own situational awareness and the way we manage situations then we are less likely to be the subject of a crash report. I reckon that's something worth doing.
If you want to explore HF further then here's a simple starting point. Google will find plenty more for you.
Stay safe and live to fly another day.

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