The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is taking on one of the most persistent killers in general aviation: VFR flight into IMC.
When visual flight rules pilots encounter instrument meteorological conditions, with little or no outside visibility they on average fly for 178 seconds, before losing control and crashing, a simulator study found.
The ATSB has launched a new safety promotion campaign titled ‘Don’t push it, don’t go. Know your limits before flight’.
ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said the campaign highlighted three key messages:
- the importance of thorough pre-flight planning and having alternate plans,
- that pressing on where there is the possibility of entering IMC carries a significant risk of spatial disorientation, and,
- the value of using a ‘personal minimums’ checklist to help manage flight risks.
ATSB records show 101 occurrences of VFR pilots inadvertently flying into IMC in Australian airspace in the ten years from 1 July 2009 to 30 June 2019. Nine of these occurrences resulted in accidents, resulting in 21 deaths.
ATSB director transport safety Stuart Godley said developing a personal minimums checklist was an effective defence against what pilots often term as ‘push-on-itis’ or ‘get-home-itis’.
‘Discuss your personal minimums with an instructor or a more experienced pilot. Have the discipline to stick to your personal minimums in spite of external pressures. And treat your personal minimums as a line in the sand over which you would not cross,’ Godley said.
Flight Safety Australia highlights the theme of ‘get-home-itis’ in a story in the spring print edition, currently being printed for distribution next month (which will also be published later online). Author Tom Turner said the story was based on a recent personal flying experience which sobered and unsettled him by demonstrating how insidious mental biases could be. Despite his safety advocacy and piloting experience, Turner found himself rationalising during a flight plan that if he flew into icing conditions he could ‘just turn around’.
‘When I heard myself actually say that, out loud, I stopped then and there. I just re-learned I am just as susceptible to temptation and ‘get home-it is’ as a newly minted private pilot. We all are,’ he said.
As part of the campaign, the ATSB has updated its report Accidents involving visual flight rules pilots in instrument meteorological conditions. Pilots can also request a printed copy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org