Here’s another one instructors get asked all the time! I’m afraid it’s not one with a straightforward answer, though. I could of course trawl through reams of accident reports, but I’d only make us both bored and depressed, and the truth is, statistics alone aren’t very helpful in determining how safe flying lessons are.
Having said that, I’d hate to be accused of putting statisticians out of work – so let’s start with a statistic!
You are 6 times more likely to have an accident in your car driving to the airfield than you are to be involved in an aviation accident.
Now, if your idea of a death-defying day is mowing the lawn, cleaning the car and then settling down to an episode of Midsomer Murders, then you might consider learning to fly a somewhat risky endeavour. However, if you’re an avid BASE jumping enthusiast (jumping off buildings, cliffs etc with a parachute) you’d have to consider these very good odds indeed!
What causes aviation accidents?
There are many excellent articles about the risks of light aircraft flying so let’s continue this one with a slightly different perspective. I asked some of my aviator friends for the first thing that came into their heads when asked “How safe is light aviation?” – let’s have a look at some of their answers.
- ‘As long as people don’t do anything daft they should be OK’
- ‘Pretty safe as long as people follow procedures’
- ‘As long as people plan thoroughly they shouldn’t have too many problems’
You’ll very quickly notice one word in common – yes, you’ve got it – people!
Human error is by far the biggest cause of accidents in aviation. Aircraft are maintained to extremely high standards and very rarely does a wing fall off or the engine stop. So the real variable is people.
It takes all sorts
I’ve flown with many different personalities and can safely say some are definitely more suited to flying than others. It’s no great mystery what makes for a good pilot though. Which of the following would you consider to be good traits or personality types for a pilot to possess?
I think you’ll probably agree with me that meticulous, confident and decisive would all be positive traits in any pilot. Arrogance or timidity – not so much! You really don’t want to be dithering when you’re about to land and Air Traffic Control let another aircraft onto the runway!
We’d all prefer to go flying with, let’s call him/ her ‘Meticulous’. They’ll have thought long and hard about all aspects of the flight – and if something went wrong they’d have the confidence and decision making skills to deal with the situation. Before flying they will have considered several questions to ensure a safe and legal flight:
As you can see, Meticulous has really put some thought into this!
Virtually every aspect of a flight can and should be planned for – and with this careful planning we can make the flight as safe as possible.
Of course, there will always be at least one area which we can’t fully control, and even with all the planning in the world things might not quite turn out quite as expected. The number one cause of surprises? You’ve guessed it – the wonderful British weather!
There are many weather factors that can affect a flying lesson, some more obvious than others – thunder, lightning, clouds etc – but here I’m going to look at a couple of areas that rookies may not have considered.
Just how safe is it then?
Let’s sum up. In aviation, as with anything we do in life – even mowing the lawn – things can go wrong. There will always be things you can’t plan for. But the biggest factor in flying safely? People.
People can cause problems – by failing to plan and prepare. But people are also usually pretty good at solving them! Personally when I’m flying I never lose sight of that fact and am constantly monitoring everything I possibly can.
The great news is that when you learn to fly, you’ll have the help of plenty of other people – meticulous, confident, experienced people – and with all of us on your side, flying lessons can be fun, exciting and, most importantly, safe.
Safe flying everyone!