Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pilots agree human error top cause of crashes

Monroe pilot Phillip Thomas feels safer in his plane than driving.

He used to worry about drunk drivers, but now he’s just as concerned about people texting or handling their cellphones when behind the wheel.

Plane crashes can result from a number of factors, including pilot error, instrument glitches, equipment malfunction and weather conditions, Thomas said.

“Nine times out of 10, it will be blamed on pilot error, but there are mechanical failures from time to time,” Thomas said.

An investigation by USA Today found nearly 45,000 people have been killed in private planes and helicopters over five decades, which is 10 times the number of those who died in airline crashes. The investigation also revealed repeated instances where crashes, deaths and injuries resulted from defective parts and dangerous designs.

“Compare plane crashes to the number of automobile accidents. I feel safer flying than driving because at least you don’t have people texting and flying,” Thomas said.

An estimated 35,200 traffic deaths were reported in 2013. In 2012, more than 32,000 traffic fatalities occurred.

According to the USA Today report, pilot error contributed to 86 percent of crashes.

The USA Today investigation cited two local crashes in its report. Both were single-engine plane crashes involving one pilot.

In September 2012 Fairley Gooch, 67, of Georgia was killed when his plane crashed near Winnsboro Municipal Airport.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the crash was the result of “the pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane after a loss of engine power during a go-around. Contributing to the accident was the difficult-to-operate fuel selector valve and the pilot’s continued operation of the airplane with a known mechanical anomaly. Also contributing to the accident was the pilot’s depression, personality disorder, cognitive issues and medication use, which adversely affected his ability to maintain control of the airplane during the emergency and likely affected his decision not to address the airplane’s fuel selector valve problem."

The other crash occurred in November 2012 when Randy Capers, of Oak Grove, crashed his single-engine aircraft near Louisiana 585 11 miles northwest of Oak Grove. He later died from his injuries.

According to the NTSB, Capers’ crash occurred because of the total loss of engine power. The specific cause could not be identified during the post-accident examination and the airplane’s subsequent impact with trees.

“It seems like a high number of crashes happen in automobiles every day and few bat an eye, but anytime there is one plane crash, people react like the sky is falling. But the fact is it is safer to fly,” Thomas said.

USA Today’s investigation cited crashes that involved instances with defects and dangerous designs that persisted for years as manufacturers covered up problems, lied to federal regulators and failed to remedy known malfunctions.

However, Thomas is confident in the design and manufacturing of aircraft, saying the industry is heavily regulated, and it takes years of testing and development before a plane is approved for flight.

Local pilot Phil Coyne agrees the majority of crashes are caused by pilot error that usually occurs when they fly in conditions they shouldn’t.

Coyne has studied aviation for years, including crashes and the cause of accidents.

“My personal thought is 95 percent of all aircraft crashes is caused by pilot error. It’s very rare to have mechanical failure unless a pilot flies into a storm. We just don’t have aircraft failure very often, though you can overstress a plane by flying incorrectly,” Coyne said.

He agrees more crashes occur with private planes than commercial or corporate aviation. Again, he credits this to pilot error when pilots may not be competent to fly under certain factors or flying in unsafe conditions.

“It’s one thing to fly instrument approaches all day with an instructor sitting beside you, but another when in actual conditions and everything counts. Flying is like most things in life. If you are dedicated, passionate and efficient you will do well. If you are not, you will probably have an accident whether you are driving a car, boat or flying a plane,” Coyne said.


"Fly Safely - Train Often"  
Master Instructor Dick Rochfort, ATP, CFII

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