Apples to apples

Mr. Bruce Lansberg (President of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation) writes at the AOPA ASF Blog, and decries recent calls for general aviation to adopt higher standards and a more rigorous regulatory regime akin to that of mass-market commercial carriers.

This is an area where one’s pilot rating will tend to determine how one views the issue; ATP-rated pilots will generally view greater rigour as no big deal and an essentially good idea, while non-ATP-rated folks are likely to view it as straining at gnats, where one will soon encounter the law of diminishing returns.

My own sense is that having GA pilots be subject to commercial-carrier-type regulation would be akin to having ordinary drivers have to conform to the mechanical, technical and certification regulations governing buses and commercial transport trucks.  It might in the end make the roads a little bit safer, but would the added inconvenience and expense be a worthwhile trade-off?

Speaking from my own experience, I’ve flown with very meticulous, by-the-book GA pilots who (for example) always check the weather forecasts; always perform a precisely detailed preflight and walk-around; always give passengers a detailed safety briefing including instructions for use of the ELT; always perform the placarded checklists at the appropriate points, and so on.  I’ve also flown with GA pilots who omitted one or two (or more) of those steps, and who I probably wouldn’t trust to take a car to the corner store.

I’ve only been in two situations where I felt a GA pilot endangered my life.  In both of those cases, I’m not sure additional regulation would have helped since they stemmed from an experienced pilot’s failure to recognise the increased risk arising from specific flight conditions.  Conditions which they are educated about and taught to avoid already!  One was a definite case of get-there-itis; a multiengine- and instrument-rated instructor pilot (who should have known better) continued flight into deteriorating winter weather conditions and a geographic locality (the middle of Lake Michigan) which provided no forced landing alternatives should an engine quit or otherwise force us down.  To make things worse, the freezing layer was so low we were down to a few hundred feet above the wavetops; if we had to ditch, we would barely have time to broadcast a position report before we got dunked in the freezing water.

Part of pilot training is giving the individual tools to make good judgments under a wide array of situations, but no educational method can guarantee a human will always be able to identify the relevant data points to arrive at the right conclusion.

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