I’m going to borrow a play from the John King playbook. I know that in recent years, John has been an anti-safety advocate. I’m on board with his philosophy. You may be wondering why the Director of Safety is anti-safety. Great question.
I analyze a lot of accidents. Many of them hit close to home in the San Diego aviation community for one reason or another. My first exposure to Plus One Flyers was in 2004. I was called out on a mission on February 17th of that year with the Civil Air Patrol to look for an aircraft that had dropped off RADAR near the NV/CA border around Jean. My team and I spent nearly three days in the field, driving nearly a thousand miles and sleeping in my truck looking for the missing Piper. The plane was operated by Plus One Flyers.
The missing Club aircraft departed North Las Vegas (VGT) airport mid-afternoon on the 16th and was en-route to Montgomery. There was no flight plan filed. The wreckage was located 17 mi from that last RADAR return. Digression: 17 mi translates to 289 square miles of search area. On average, a 7.5 nm by 7.5 nm search grid yields an approximate probability of detection of 15-25% after many, many hours of searching. Think flights plans are a good idea yet?
When the wreckage was located, it was located in steep canyon facing Southeast. The wreckage was located about 600′ from the top of the mountain. 600′ between life and death. The last RADAR return 17 mi behind showed the aircraft at 100′ AGL.
Do you think the pilot was safe when he took off?
Webster’s dictionary defines Safe as:
- 1: free from harm or risk : UNHURT
Free from harm or risk? Where are you right now as you read this? If you’re like me, you are probably driving up the 5 freeway, doing 70 MPH, changing lanes, listening to a Podcast and reading the Rotating Beacon. Seriously, don’t do that! Unless you lock yourself in your bathroom, crawl into a porcelain tub and throw a bomb blanket over you, you aren’t safe. At least according to Webster.
Aviation is an inherently risky endeavor. We are breaking the law every time we takeoff. The law of gravity anyway. When we break laws, there are consequences. In our case, the consequences can range from an ah ha moment to a FAR violation to death. Every time we think about taking a flight, we throw safety out the window and invite risk in.
So Now What?:
Manage risk. You’ve likely heard the acronym ADM or Aeronautical Decision Making. This can be broken down into a simple phrase. Risk Management. EVERYTHING we do in aviation involves risk. I want you to manage it wisely. Do you read the “I learned about flying from that” or “Aftermath” columns in your favorite aviation magazines? You are managing risk. Do you frequently attend aviation-related events? You are managing risk. Do you read the musings from a Director of Safety with nothing better to do? Probably still managing risk.
- Weather briefings = managing risk
- Filing & activating a flight plan = managing risk
- Performing a thorough pre-flight = managing risk
- Using a taxi diagram even at your home airport = managing risk
- Deciding to fly at 2,000′ above those mountains = managing risk
NAS Whiting Field (Helicopter Training Sq 18) uses this accident as a Case Study for managing risk when flying in canyons or rough terrain. The effects in the military helicopter community no doubt had long-lasting effects.
Every decision you will make in your flying career likely involves some form of risk management. When I was flying passengers around the country, I would think about the accident report for my flight. I did it on every flight. I would say to myself “The NTSB determines the probably cause of this accident to be the pilot’s failure to…” If there was ever a time I could fill in that blank with anything, I would think again, until I was satisfied that I was making the right decision.
Let me teach you one more acronym, CRM. Many of you are saying “Mr. Safety guy, I already know what Crew Resource Management is.” Or, if you’re an IT guy, you’re probably saying “01001101 01101001 01110011 01110100 01100101 01110010 00100000 01010011 01100001 01100110 01100101 01110100 01111001 00101100 00100000 01001001 00100000 01101011 01101110 01101111 01110111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01000011 01010010 01001101 00100000 01101101 01100101 01100001 01101110 01110011 00100000 01100011 01110101 01110011 01110100 01101111 01101101 01100101 01110010 00100000 01110010 01100101 01101100 01100001 01110100 01101001 01101111 01101110 01110011 01101000 01101001 01110000 00100000 01101101 01100001 01101110 01100001 01100111 01100101 01101101 01100101 01101110 01110100 00101110.” Yeah, that’s how they think. Translated, that means “Mister Safety, I know that CRM means customer relationship management.”
Wrong on both accounts. My version of CRM means Certified Risk Manager. Starting the day you receive your pilot certificate, you get a silent CRM certificate. Take good care of it. The penalties for not could be pretty steep.