Overall safety of general aviation?.......

I’ve always been a fan of aviation and have dreamed of getting my PPL. Thus, I’m contemplating starting flight lessons this summer at a local Cessna approved flight school, and I’m quite certain I’ll be hooked the first time I go up with a CFI. With that being said, I’m still a little nervous about doing all of this, especially after reading all the crash/death reports on NTSB.com’s aviation database section. Granted, many, if not the vast majority of these crashes are due to pilot error, and if I can learn from these mistakes and not repeat them, chances are great that I’ll never face death in the face, so to speak. But there still seems to be an awful lot of deaths attributed to engine failure (especially on takeoff) or other crashes that are outside the pilot’s control. And I guess that is what scares me the most. I’m already committed to learning as much as possible and being as safe as possible, while always making smart decisions to boot. But I guess you could say that something such as an engine failure on takeoff does make me think twice about pursuing aviation at times.

With that being said, any opinions of advice in helping me overcome this last hurdle would be appreciated. I realize that, overall, GA is relatively safe, but is still roughly 7 times more dangerous than driving (in terms of death rates), as John King from King Schools once mentioned. Especially considering that I have a young family that would be devastated if anything were to ever happen to me. I’ve convinced friends/family (who only know GA from the plane crashes they cover on the news) that GA is relatively safe. I’ve given them the good overall odds, which include deaths/crashes from pilot errors that I would never repeat (such as fuel starvation, flying into bad weather, poor maintenance, VFR into IFR, your basic get-there-itis, etc) but they are of course still skeptical.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Welcome to FA. I hope you can find answers to your questions that will enable you to overcome your fears.

Go with your instinct…

900 hours later I still feel like I am taking my first flight.

Quit worrying and go fly! I have young children and don’t think twice about getting in the airplane every day. Study hard, expect the worse scenario to happen, have a plan. You’ll do fine. And when your kids are old enough, you’ll be able to give them the gift of a different perspective on the world.

Sounds like you’ve convinced yourelf already. On your first lesson you’ll go out with a CFI and walk around the plane and look at, touch, wiggle and shake the various parts and learn what they do in terms of flight (I’m trying to be generic here). This will boost your confidence before you even sit in the plane. Go for it.

I understand your safety concerns. But, I have a suggestion…

Take your home town newspaper and open it up. Read through it from cover to cover and list every article in which someone was hurt or killed in a car, on a bike, a motorcycle, a boat and an airplane. If you live in a rural area, consider adding horses and horse drawn wagons.

Do the same thing for two weeks.

Look at the results, and ask yourself if you are afraid to drive a car because of what you are reading? Why is there more concern over an airplane than a car?

Welcome to the best community in the world, that of pilots…

From the non-pilot perspective …
I believe the statistics bear out that the risk is genuinely higher than driving, but clearly it’s a manageable risk. You have to take it seriously though, and that’s where I let go of the rope.

I decided not to become a pilot while my income is (a) critical for putting three girls through college, and (b) tied up putting three girls through college. That’s only part of it. I read this forum and Flying magazine, and the conclusion I draw is that several things are required to become an old pilot:

  • Follow the rules, guidelines, checklists, etc. with no exceptions ever.
  • Invest in or rent good equipment and keep it well maintained. Become an expert on every part of it, and inspect it thoroughly yourself. Do not allow yourself to get lax on doing scheduled maintenance when it needs doing.
  • Train yourself well and often, including hiring a CFI from time to time. Keep practicing under all conditions, far more than the legal minimums.
  • If you have a fancy glass cockpit or other complex electronics, become utterly 100% familiar with it. Practice with it often, even when you don’t need to.

There are probably other warnings, which others can supply. In summary, I concluded that in order to be sufficiently safe, I would need to spend freely and without hesitation, both time and $. I am not in a position to divert that much from family to aviation.

As a pilot I read those as well. In my opinion you’re already on the right track. Those are very informational on what not to do. Very few do not blame the pilot in one way or another, even if the reason seems far fetched for being pilot error, they still found something that the pilot could’ve done to avoid the situation. With these stories in the back of your head, they are a good tool to avoid making the same mistakes. That’s why I like to read them, and like you, some of them seem pretty random and uncontrollable, but even the rare cases where a probable cause can’t be conjoured up, they’ll still give you some insight and knowlede. In my eyes any way. Yeah, they freak you out, but they’re a great tool as well. To put it in perspective, think about how many people a day you see who go through the orange light at an intersection. Think about all those people who are texting/talking and crossing center lines. It makes me just as worried about getting to the airport as I am actually strapping on the airplane and defying death! :wink:
plain and simple, when you do it, you’ll have those days where you ask yourself what am I doing, but even in retrospect, those days combined with the perfect ones, you’ll know when you start that the only decision is do it!

Life is full of uncertainties. My philosophy is if I want to do something, I’ll do it and try my hardest to manage the risks.

I don’t think comparing driving and general aviation flying is a apple-to-apple comparison. While it may be true that the takeoff is the most dangerous part, once you are in cruise you are probably much safer than a driver in traffic.

I’m not a pilot. I haven’t even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. When I was in the National Guard many years ago, it was an aviation unit and I was in the flight dispatch office. As a result, I got to know and talk to a lot of pilots. I have also read quite a few of the NTSB accident reports. For you pilots out there, I would like your comments on the following to see if I’m correct or way off base.

I feel that both the strongest and weakest part of a flight is the same thing - the pilot. A pilot should always stay current. A current pilot is a safe pilot. The book was made for a reason - read it and follow it.

Preflight your aircraft every time before you take off - even at enroute stops. If something doesn’t look right, have it looked at by a qualified mechanic.

Make sure you are physically fit to fly. Don’t drink within 8-16 hours of flying. Don’t fly if you are feeling ill. Make sure you get your medical as often as the book says to.

Here’s an interesting tid bit I found at philip.greenspun.com/flying/safety

Risk management is much easier with airplanes than with cars. In a car, you are constantly at the mercy of other drivers. If an 18-wheeler crosses the yellow line, you’re toast. Except in the immediate vicinity of a busy airport, traffic is seldom an issue for pilots. If you die it is because something went wrong with your plane or because you flew it into the ground by mistake.

If you don’t want to die like JFK, Jr., who became disoriented on a dark and hazy night over water, don’t fly at night or don’t fly at night unless you’re absolutely sure that it will be clear with a bright moon. If you don’t want to die when a 25-year-old part fails in mid-air, get a new airplane.

If you’re really really scared, try flying commercial. Big airliners have a fatal crash rate of 0.34 per million flight hours, approximately 50 times safer than general aviation. Try to avoid that final commuter hop, though. Those smaller turboprops crash 10 times as frequently per hour of operation, making them only 5 times as safe as general aviation. See the FAA’s Aviation Safety Statistical Handbook for more detail.

Better yet, stay home, crack open a 40 oz. malt liquor, and turn on the TV. It is difficult to get seriously injured falling off a sofa.

I would not only pin it to the pilot for the strongest and weakest part of a flight as events are usually chain of events in which the pilot may be at the end of that chain. I would say the human factor is the strongest and weakest point of a flight.

Safety begins with the human who turns the wrench (A&P) on parts not inspected by preflight (what the pilot can’t see can kill).
Safety begins with ATC controller maintaining seperation in IMC (what the pilot can’t see can kill).
And of course safety ends with the pilot controlling the plane once the above two passes muster.

Probably many other human factors I am missing, but these stick out in my brains the most.

As my wife say it best, to the non aviator, it can be TMI (too much information). She just wants to hop an airliner and go, and not know the inner workings. The more she thinks, the more she thinks on what can go wrong. Now that she has been exposed to GA, she now has a better appreciation on what happens in the “front office” of an airliner.

I, on the other hand am fascinated on how much that could go wrong that DOES NOT go wrong. System is not perfect and never will be as long as we have human factor, but in my eyes, I feel it’s pretty dayem safe as it gets.

This is something I’ve learned from reading accident reports. It’s amazing how some insignificant event starts a a chain of events that eventually destroys an aircraft.

Like others have said, you obviously already have the desire and discipline to be a pilot.

All I have to say is that within the first 5 hours of your actual stick-time you’ll become VERY confident in the airplane, your abilities, and the whole situation in general. Actually being “in command” of an airplane (and the safety of the flight in general) will displace any concerns you may have about safety VERY quickly. Trust me, it’s an amazing transformation when YOU are the pilot and not a passenger! A good CFI will have you control the airplane from start-up and initial taxi all the way up to short final even on your 1st flight.

As for overall GA safety, well that’s up to you. Set your own limits and minimums (you’ll learn them quickly) and adhere to them no-matter-what and you will never be an NTSB report. Simple as that. Don’t EVER put yourself in a position where you might orphan your family. It is YOUR responsibility, just like driving a car.

If you haven’t done so already, take the “intro” flight at the flight school and treat it as your first lesson. Get to know the CFIs and the operation in general before-hand. Just go in and hang-out on a weekend and ask questions before you even schedule your 1st flight. Believe me, pilots love to talk about flying to anyone off the street! Pick a CFI you’re comfortable with, ‘interview’ them all if you have to, you’re the one paying after all! Don’t do a scenic tour, emphasize to the CFI that you intend to be a pilot and want to control the aircraft yourself during the flight. ASK EVERY QUESTION THAT POPS INTO YOUR BRAIN. Information and experience will quell your fears.

Welcome to FlightAware and please keep us updated on your progress! Consider us a resource in your training!

Happy Flying fbranch4!!! :smiley:

PS I could have forgone all of the above suggestions and just said “Just do your 1st lesson, you’ll never regret it, and never forget it”. Things change when you stop being an "outsider’ and start being an "insider’.

After posting the above —^

I re-read all the posts and would like to add a few things:

  1. The pilot is ALWAYS responsible to FLY THE PLANE TO SAFETY no matter what happens (engine failure, A&P put a bomb in the cowling, etc). ALWAYS be planning for the worst. When you’re taking-off plan for an engine failure EVERY TIME. Always have a plan to best keep the airplane controlled all the way to the ground, even if it means flying straight-and-level into the trees at the end of the runway. Better than trying to do a dead-stick 180 back to the field with the inevitable stall/spin. That would be classified as "pilot error’.

  2. Constantly plan for emergencies at any, and every, point of the flight. You’ll learn how- checklists, procedures, etc.
    Have a plan. Always.

  3. Fly the plane. Always.

  4. If a wing snaps off, I’ve got nothing for you. :smiley:

I would just like to thank everyone for taking the time to offer their input and overall thoughts. I greatly appreciate it and the positive comments from most of you (especially you phantomjet). Matter of fact, thanks to most of you, I went ahead and decided to use my one hour/first flying lesson that my wife got me last Christmas this weekend. I’m going to head over to the flight school tomorrow to get to know them a bit before going up on Saturday morning. Though I’m obviously new to aviation, I must say that the pilots I’ve met thus far have all been great who I’m sure I’ll enjoy spending time with.

Thanks again everyone for the encouragement and I’ll check in from time to time to let you know how I’m progressing. Take care.

Way to go

Great to hear it fbranch4!!! :wink:

If you already have a gift certificate then it’s a no-brainer!

Like I said, just go hang out with the gang at the airport and make friends at first. You will automatically have a common bond with all of them, so it’s very easy. Just make sure you’re comfortable with your initial CFI… they’ll be your “nagging spouse” in the right seat during your first, and probably most strenuous hours as a newbie (“watch your altitude, airspeed too low, watch that heading”, etc). Your 1st “Wow” moment probably won’t even happen until you’re driving home from the airport or trying to fall asleep later that night. And then it will hit you… Woah… what did I just do!!!

If you ever need help or advice please post here. There are some very good resources in these forums to help you. If you ever want to contact any of us personally just click on our “PM” button in our posts.

Go touch the “Face of God” brother!!! :smiley:

PS My favorite times as a CFI was the 1st flight with a 0 time “green pea”, and then again when I hung their shirt-tail on the wall when they soloed. And again when I posed in front of the A/C with them for a photo after they got their PPL. Very rewarding for all…

Just be sure to mention my name to the flight school so I get my commission check!

Good to hear you’ll pursue it, of which I had little doubt after the aviation crazed bunch around here finished with you! :wink:

One request, fill in your locale in your profile please. That way we can possibly keep an eye on you or offer personal encouragement if any of us are in the area.

Keep your nose up in the turns! Assume the best and prepare for the worst.

Your choice and risks are up to you but remember there are real people below you. In Oregon a pilot (instructor!) screwed up and wiped out a family when he crashed into their house.


Pfft, one example out of how many flights that fly everyday? It doesn’t exactly rain airplanes. I would think you have a better chance of hitting the lotto or being hit by a tornado then an airplane falling on your house.

How 'bout some stats with cars wiping out families whether it be pedestrians on a street corner, drunk drivers wiping out familes and the like. They are on the ground too. Do you stop driving or discourage learning how to drive because of these dangers? I doubt it…

pfft…Tell that to the kids parents…