Safety: Never to Us

Accidents have been an unfortunate part of the business of aviation since the dawn of powered flight. Just a few years after success at Kill Devil Hills, Orville suffered an aircraft accident while piloting the Wright Flyer in Fort Meyer, VA. His passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, became the first person to die in an airplane crash. Since then, pilots have unwillingly continued the tradition of tearing metal and fabric despite their best efforts.  And while general aviation trends safer every year, it doesn’t mean that any of us is immune to a mishap.

We imagine accidents in depersonalized hypotheticals. Accidents happen to others, never to us. We use phrases like, “Had I been flying in ceilings that low—not that I ever would have been flying in ceilings that low…” and, “Obviously, I would’ve just turned around.” Sound familiar? The idea that we could make the same mistake as the pilot in an accident is uncomfortable, but we are all prone to human error.

Unfortunately—and all of us at the Air Safety Institute genuinely hope this never happens—your club might experience anything from a gear-up landing or ground loop to a missing, overdue aircraft. We can hope for the best, but, as trite as it may sound, we should prepare for the worst. Besides developing an emergency response and media plan, your club will benefit from addressing the human factor in the wake of an accident as well.

Imagine you just experienced an accident and walked away. How would you want to be received by your club? With criticism and exclusion, or with openness and understanding? Our guess is the latter. After an accident or incident, don’t exile one of our own with commentary on mistakes made and how an event could have been avoided. Instead, invite them to share what they’ve learned and discuss what went wrong. Be patient if they don’t want to talk about it, though. The mental recovery from an accident or incident can take time and should not be dismissed or underestimated.

“Creating a culture of safety” is easy to say and write but far harder to implement. It requires club-wide support, respect, and maintenance. You don’t have to wait for an accident to actively share lessons learned. The sooner you start, the better off you will be—strive to avoid a post-accident discussion altogether.

Consider opening the floor to discussion of recent lessons learned in every club meeting. Depending on the experience level of the group, some pilots may not feel comfortable sharing. In this case, look to the pilots with more experience to begin discussions and perhaps participate in that rarest of piloting feats—public self-criticism.

Every lesson doesn’t have to be life-or-death. Did you learn something from the fuel truck driver? Did you have a great crosswind landing and experience an epiphany about ground effect? Did you have a strange interaction with ATC and want to debrief? Make discussions like this normal, so that if you do one day have a safety concern, you will feel comfortable to address it with the club.

Experiences of others allow us to learn—we say that the rules are written in blood for a reason. Improve the quality of your club with honest discussion of issues you’ve encountered—you never know what small tip could make the difference in an emergency.

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