In aviation, pilots can never have too much training. Failure to train each member who plays a part in flight department safety often results in an unhappy ending, observes Stuart Hope.
After departure, the pilot of a commuter operation in Alaska encountered icing related to a dense, moisture-laden fog. Attempting to divert, he overflew a nearby airport and crashed into a ridge four miles away, with the loss of three passengers as well as his own life. As part of its investigation, the NTSB reported the commuter airline routinely failed to follow its own Standard Operating Procedures that required flight coordinators to assess the risk of each individual flight before releasing it.
According to NTSB investigators, the flight coordinators were undertrained and pilots routinely took off without consulting with them. An FAA manager told the NTSB that the commuter airline’s employees had a “bush pilot mentality” and flight coordinators had not received any formal training. According to the FAA, pilots usually just came in, did their own weather checks and left.
Training and repetition develops and sharpens skills. We all know that - but far too many flight departments consider training important but not urgent.
Flight personnel are busy putting out today’s “urgent” fires, and training seems like it can wait until they can give it proper attention, which regrettably for some becomes never—until it is too late.
To many, the fact their operation has never had an accident proves they are safe, but could it be they have just been lucky?
Many pilots can tell you of a flying experience where they have got themselves into trouble and promised the good Lord above, if he will let them land safely, they will never make that mistake again. But sometimes luck runs out, as it did for the pilot in our case study above. Had the flight coordinators had the proper training, they might not have released the pilot to make the flight that tragic day.
Follow the Leader
Insurance companies obviously get it. They have a lot of money on the line and have the statistics to back up the fact that training unequivocally lowers accident rates. They know that more than 85% of aircraft accidents result from pilot error. To that end, all insurance carriers require recurrent training for pilots annually in turboprop and jet aircraft with rare exceptions. Training simply is not left to the discretion of the aircraft owner. But even then some operators try to find a way to postpone it. They ask to train every other year, or request approval to train with a local “guru” rather than with a formal training center.
Rationalizing, some operators argue that recurrent training is expensive and takes time. If the pilots are training, the owner might have to find an alternate means of travel for an important business trip. Such an attitude is more than “penny wise and pound foolish”.
Although a well-worn but truthful phase, safety starts at the top. If management is complaining that training is expensive and creates scheduling conflicts, and thus instructs the flight department manager to find a cheaper way to comply with the insurance requirement, the message given from the top is that safety is not valued. The smartest aircraft owners spare no expense training their pilot crews.
After all, some of their most important personnel (including themselves) are riding in the back of that airplane.
Many insurance companies now reward flight departments that demonstrate the highest standards of training. For example, one gives a 5% premium reduction to operators that can document that all pilots successfully complete twice-yearly simulator-based training for the make and model aircraft they operate; another 5% if they achieve and maintain IS-BAO registry, and another 5% if they successfully implement an industry-recognized flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) program that covers all aircraft they operate.
In addition, these same insurance companies have set up partnerships with experts in the fields of emergency response planning, fatigue management and human factors curriculum, and will pay for their insureds to take advantage of one of these safety programs once per year.
Insurance companies have the ultimate vantage point of learning from others mistakes. If you are wise, you will heed what they are trying to tell you.