As part of the FAA and the general aviation community’s #FlySafe campaign, the agency takes a deep dive into Loss of Control accidents, which NTSB officials call the “problem that never went away.”
A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot, FAA officials note.
It also is deadly: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) continues to claim up to 17% of all general aviation fatalities, even though many pilots have technology on their side.
CFIT occurs when an airworthy aircraft, under pilot control, flies into the ground, a mountain, a body of water, or an obstacle. Most often, the pilot or crew is unaware of the looming disaster until it is too late, FAA officials note. CFIT most commonly occurs in the approach or landing phase of flight.
Why Does CFIT Happen?
There are many reasons why a plane might crash into terrain, but pilot error is the most common, particularly a loss of situational awareness, according to the FAA. A pilot may not know what his or her actual position is, and how that position relates to the surrounding terrain. Fatigue can cause very experienced pilots to make mistakes.
CFIT accidents often involve a collision with terrain that usually occurs during low visibility conditions and when the aircraft is on approach to a destination airport. Other contributing factors include weather, approach design and documentation, failure to use standard phraseology, and malfunctioning navigational aids.
One of the problems in reviewing GA CFIT accidents is the lack of human factors data. This is due to the high fatality rate of CFIT accidents, and the fact that most GA aircraft are not equipped with data recording systems.
GA pilots have a unique challenge in that there is often only one pilot to conduct all of the flight and decision making duties. Unlike with a crewed cockpit, GA operations don’t usually have a second pilot to help with avoiding a CFIT accident.
Therefore, it is vital that single pilots ensure they are qualified for the intended flight, meet all regulatory requirements, and have the self-discipline to follow industry recommended safety procedures to minimize CFIT.
There are technologies that can help, including onboard alerting equipment. Air traffic control can act as an external warning too.
However, external factors like fatigue, distraction, time pressure, procedural non-compliance, and more, can punch holes in your defense, FAA officials said.
They suggest you realize that errors can happen, and layer redundancy into your operation. Verify your checklists and prepare for the unexpected. Fly rested, remain alert, undistracted, and focused on the operation. Don’t become complacent about safety. Your loved ones will thank you.
Did you know?
From October 2016 through September 2017, 247 people died in 209 general aviation accidents.
Loss of Control was the number one cause of these accidents.
Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
There is one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.
This NTSB PowerPoint shows how you can overcome “The Problem that Never Went Away.”
This FAA Training Module can help you learn more about the causes of CFIT, and the ways to avoid it.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.
The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements. It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.