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Single Pilot Safety: Do you Think & Fly Like a Pro?

Efforts continue to grow to keep accident rates falling...

Dave Higdon   |   3rd February 2017
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Overall, General Aviation crashes and fatalities have been in decline for years. But the decline seems to have slowed in the past couple of years. How can we make sure they don't plateau, asks Dave Higdon...

Industry efforts continue to improve pilot safety and reduce accidents. The most-recent of those from the FAA carries the title, ‘Single-Pilot Crew Resource Management’ (SRM). Corporate aircraft crew who fly as part of two-pilot cockpits years ago received their introduction to the concept of Crew Resource Management (CRM).

Originally known as Cockpit Resource Management, CRM grew out of NTSB recommendations after its investigation of the 1978 crash of United Airlines Flight 173, in which a Douglas DC-8 crew exhausted their fuel over Portland, Oregon while troubleshooting a landing gear problem.

CRM was ultimately created to help crew make best use of both pilots, both in normal operations and especially during times when problems arise.

SRM, shares the goal of improving safety. “Single-Pilot Resource Management is the art of managing all onboard and outside resources available to a pilot before and during a flight to help ensure a safe and successful outcome,” notes FAA.

The two-page SRM guide provides a ‘Five-P Approach’, encompassing:

  • Plan;
  • Plane;
  • Pilot;
  • Passengers; and
  • Programming.

It also provides an ‘I'm Safe’ Checklist to help the aviator focus on whether he or she is physically and mentally fit for flight, along with risk-assessment tools useful in any cockpit.

The growth in single-pilot jets and propjets means more and more pilots fly high-performance, high-altitude aircraft without a co-pilot in the right seat. As the FAA rightly notes, “There is no one right answer in aeronautical decision-making. Each pilot is expected to analyze each situation in light of experience level, personal minimums and current physical and mental readiness level, and make his or her own decision.”

Five More Safety Tips...

In 'Five Tips to Become a Safer Pilot', George Perry, a retired US Navy aviator, offers several useful tips for pilots at all levels, noting, “Safety starts with a desire to learn and get better”.

Senior Vice President of the AOPA Air Safety Institute, Cmdr. Perry (Ret.) suggests pilots “Think like a pro and fly like a pro”. That's a familiar philosophy espoused by many safety advocates, among them the late Capt. Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 commander, the last man to talk on the Moon.

Capt. Cernan preached this mantra at numerous Bombardier Safety Standdowns, stressing, “Flying like a pro has nothing to do with whether you draw a paycheck for flying – and everything to do with how you approach your flying”.

Both of these former Navy aviators espoused the same philosophy.

Cmdr. Perry wrote, “Plan, brief, fly, evaluate and learn. Each flight is an opportunity to get better, but far too often pilots don’t take advantage of the opportunity”.

Everything starts with the individual aviator and the personal drive to fly each flight as closely as possible to perfection. Capt. Cernan once said, “I've never achieved perfection, but every time I fly I try to move a little closer – and celebrate my progress by renewing that effort on the next flight.

“It's all in our head; that's where the professional mindset starts.”

These two pilots' insights offer something valuable for all pilots, whether flying a single-engine piston, a two-pilot business-turbine aircraft, or a spacecraft headed to the Moon. Each time we succeed we contribute to lowering the rate of accidents we suffer as a community.

Read more about: Safety | Flight Department | Pilot Safety

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