Real Answers from Real Pilots

Private planes and safety

Hi, I’m looking at starting my pilot training later in the year and had a question around private planes (eg. Cessna 172, other single engine planes) and safety. I also noticed that life insurance premiums are higher for student pilots and probably for a reason… In your experience, what would you say is the most important thing for a new pilot to remember in terms of safety? Are there ways to prepare above and beyond what’s required by the FAA to operate and ensure a safe flight in a smaller aircraft? Also, I believe larger aircraft are built with redundencies to ensure a safe operation if there was ever an inflight breakdown - is the same true of smaller aircraft? Finally, is training via ATP an advantage over smaller mom and pop flight schools with regards to safety - or does the FAA hold all of these flight schools to a high safety standard regardless. Thanks for all your insights!

Hi Ravi,

The big thing that I think is important a student is communicating and having a relationship with your instructor. If that instructor says “My Controls,” your hands and feet should come off the controls unless they state otherwise (“to shadow them on something”). You’ll learn about the positive exchange of controls early on in your training.

Every engine that you’ll come across has dual redundancies that create safety, for example Skyhawks and Cherokee/Archers all have dual magnetos so if one fails or fouls, you have a backup. There’s also two (2) spark plugs on each cylinder, same concept.

An advantage with training at ATP Flight School is that we train pilots based on core values that involve safety, consistency, and integrity. Every weekday at ATP you can expect to have a flight activity whether it’s an actual flight or a simulator lesson, weekends are utilized for poor weather in the week. All the planes are maintenance on a regular basis and readily exchanged with planes fresh out of maintenance to provide consistent availability. At a “mom-and-pop” school, you might not get the consistent training that ATP offers, unless they have 3 Skyhawks and many instructors to fill-in if one gets sick.

No matter where you go for flight instruction, any airplane has airworthy requirements that have to be met under the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Brady

Always be ahead of the plane by a few minutes. Once you fall back, everything crumbles down.

Most accidents are from pilot error, not the airplane. It’s just a matter of staying proficient and hitting the books.

Good questions, Ravi,

The most important thing in terms of safety is a tough question to answer because EVERYTHING is important and flying is a diminishing skill. So if I had to make an attempt at answering the question I would give a two part answer: 1) understanding the human factors of aviation and knowing how to mitigate them, 2) maintaining proficiency

Going above and beyond is misleading. Going above and beyond could lead to a greater false sense of security. Like I said, everything is important. But what is even more important is recognizing that flying is a dynamic environment. You can be the safest pilot in the world, but the fact is that flying is inherently risky.

While larger aircraft have more redundancy built in than GA, GA have redundancies as well.

I honestly don’t know the extent that flight schools are held accountable for in terms of safety standards. But ATP is absolutely known for their safety record.

Tory

Ravi,

While general aviation is generally pretty safe, there’s no question there is some inherent risk. It stands to reason that a student pilot’s insurance premiums will be higher than others because you’re participating in an activity that a) could result in physical harm and b) you as a student might not be very good at it. Same reason is you’re a new driver your insurance rates are going to be high.

The FAA sets up the minimum requirements to be a safe pilot but it’s up to each individual to be a safe as possible (or not). Perfect example is a thorough preflight of the airplane. This is the best opportunity people have to ensure their plane is safe to fly. The FAA requires a preflight but how thorough it’s done is entirely up to you. The FAA doesn’t show up before every flight and watch you do it. It’s an honor system. If you simply quickly walk around the airplane and don’t inspect every section no one is going to yell at you, but if you fall out of the sky that’s not the FAA or your instructor’s fault, it’s yours. That btw goes for large and small aircraft.

Many GA aircraft do have some redundant systems but it’s generally less than large commercial aircraft. The single biggest being the engine. While it’s great to have a backup generator or radio, nothing really beats having a second engine. That said the fact is more people get in trouble in twin engine airplanes that lose one engine than in single engine planes that lose their only engine because that can require greater skill and one to react more deliberately.

When it comes to schools the FAA holds all schools to the same safety standards but again the standards are the minimum. ATP has the largest and newest training fleet in the country. I’ll ask you which do you think is a safer, an old car or a new car. Further ATP has it’s own maintenance facilities and knows every item that’s ever been performed to each of their airplanes. While local flight schools usually have only a few airplanes, ATP has hundreds. That means they can afford to service their planes at the slightest indication of a problem. A smaller school will lose money removing a plane from service and might “push” things a little. While they may satisfy the minimums, it doesn’t mean it’s the safest.

Ravi it’s normal to have some concerns about safety. While again aviation is incredibly safe, things can and do go wrong. The single best piece of safety equipment in any aircraft is a well trained pilot. ATP has been training pilots for over 35yrs and has an excellent safety record. There’s a reason virtually every Regional airline in the country has an agreement with ATP to place their pilots. Want to be a safe pilot? Get the best training you can and that means ATP.

Adam

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Ravi,
Being a student pilot is arguably one of the riskiest times in your career. Like Adam said, it’s like being a brand new driver again so your insurance is at its highest. It will eventually come down over time and experience.
Flight training is inherently risky, but can be even more so with older or less maintained aircraft and part time instructors that you often find at mom and pop schools. ATP has a nearly new fleet, regular and as needed maintenance and all full time instructors.
Risk is always going to be present but the best thing you can do is mitigate that risk. The FAA provides minimums for legality but it’s up to you to maintain proficiency and be consistently honest with your abilities. You’ll learn this in your training but PAVE is an acronym used to remember ways to mitigate risk. (P)ilot, (A)ircraft, En(V)ironment, (E)xternal factors. In the beginning, it may seem memorized and rehearsed but as you progress in your experience you will integrate PAVE in every decision you make regarding a flight. That’s how you cultivate safety-focused habits.

-Hannah

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Ravi,

Smaller airplanes do lack many of the redundancies that larger airplanes have, this is what maintenance takes on an even more important role. Now I obviously cannot speak to maintenance at every mom and pop school, but I can speak to ATP’s and it is top notch. ATP has maintenance centers all across the country and they take particular pride in taking excellent care of the aircraft. I never once was asked to take an airplane that I did not think was 100% safe.

As for what you can do as a new pilot, my best advice would be to know your limits and not get arrogant. When pilots think they are more skilled than they are is when they get killed (JFK Junior). Know your limits and listen to those who are wiser and more experienced than you.

Chris

Thanks everyone for the info and tips …also found this online and seems to be a good pilot safety resource : 31 Day Safer Pilot Challenge

That’s a good video to give an idea of ga safety. The others have given lotta good information especially towards ATP.

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