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How Well Do Your Passengers Know You?


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Every time we get in a plane, we know we are taking a risk and we accept that risk. At the same time, given that the vast majority of accidents are caused by human error, it follows that the risk involved in any given flight varies wildly, primarily because of the decisions that we either knowingly or unknowingly make. Assuming you have received sufficient training and aren't breaking any laws, there is nothing wrong with pilots having different risk profiles. What I do find to be rather disheartening is when a pilot dies because of a clear lack of training or respect for aviation. What I find to be absolutely heartbreaking is when innocent passengers die because they were unknowingly placed in a bad situation with a predictable outcome.

 

Unfortunately, many of the people that will read this post probably aren't the ones that need it the most. If you're passionate enough about aviation to spend your spare time discussing it and helping others, I doubt any of this is news. But what about the other half? The ones who fly to get from A to B. The guys who see a plane as an airborne jet ski. Do we place enough of an emphasis on teaching pilots about the implications of their decisions and should there be a legal requirement for pilots to document and share their risk assessment with passengers? With all the regulation in aviation, much of which is actually counterproductive, you would think that based on the evidence, this is one area where we could use a little less freedom.

 

 

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While we are at it have you got anyt other freedoms you are not using this week that you would like to handover as well, the nanny state will take as many as you are prepared to part with!

 

 

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Recently I rode with a friend who announced his intentions in the event of EFATO as part of his checklist. I had never heard this said aloud before and found it quite disconcerting. I think he should keep such thoughts to himself! That plus the placard which says that this is not a real aeroplane are enough to thoroughly put the wind up a novice passenger.

 

We are used to these reminders of our mortality, but they certainly don't help to promote flying. Throw in any doubts about the character or skills of the pilot and he might as well fly a single-seater.

 

Part of my GA training, years ago, was to exude confidence and reassure the passengers even before they got on board. It will not help them to be reminded of what might go wrong, as they can't contribute to the solution. They will behave better in an emergency if they believe in the skills of the pilot.

 

 

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Recently I rode with a friend who announced his intentions in the event of EFATO as part of his checklist. I had never heard this said aloud before and found it quite disconcerting. I think he should keep such thoughts to himself! That plus the placard which says that this is not a real aeroplane are enough to thoroughly put the wind up a novice passenger.We are used to these reminders of our mortality, but they certainly don't help to promote flying. Throw in any doubts about the character or skills of the pilot and he might as well fly a single-seater.

Part of my GA training, years ago, was to exude confidence and reassure the passengers even before they got on board. It will not help them to be reminded of what might go wrong, as they can't contribute to the solution. They will behave better in an emergency if they believe in the skills of the pilot.

Sorry, but I can't agree with you. Among a lot of other matters, I always brief pax about what my actions will be in event of EFATO because I need them to know what to do according to what action I take, and that varies according to the height that the EFATO might occur. I certainly won't have time to tell them what to do if I do get an EFATO, probably only enough time to check that they're doing it. I'd agree that it can be disconcerting but if it all ended up in court because they have a brain injury and you hadn't told them to protect their head and/or that we might end up inverted, for one of many possible scenario, I think it might go very heavily against you.

 

Also don't forget that a pax briefing is mandatory. What do you brief your pax about?

 

 

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My pax briefing is about where we are going, what height we will be flying, keep feet off the pedals, don't pull the canopy latch, this is what the instruments are for. And in the event of an incident, make sure your harness is tight. If you need to get out and I am incapacitated, this is how to undo the two canopy latches and open the canopy. If inverted you might have to smash the canopy. Get out quickly.

 

 

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I tell them how to get out of the plane, make sure they are strapped in properly and to keep their feet away from the controls. To check the last item is complied with, I move the controls fully just prior to rolling.

 

If I had an emergency, I would tell them what I'm doing, (That's only a matter of thinking aloud... almost) and to check their seat belt is tight.( and you check yours too. Nev

 

 

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While we are at it have you got anyt other freedoms you are not using this week that you would like to handover as well, the nanny state will take as many as you are prepared to part with!

Yeah yeah I should have predicted that response and part of me agrees with you. I hate the nanny state bs as much as the next guy. At the same time there have been some pretty ordinary performances lately which there should be no excuse for. Not only does it result in innocent people getting killed, it's also great fuel for the media fuelled, small planes are the devil attitude that impacts all of us.

 

 

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There's a lot of truth in what you say Nick.

 

Personal risk assessment? I wonder how that would be assessed? A lot of the most dangerous people I know. would check with others what is involved and just give the required answers to tick the box. If the real test produced a "Dangerous as Hell" answer they would be proud of it, and wear it as a badge of honour. Nev

 

 

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There's a lot of truth in what you say Nick.Personal risk assessment? I wonder how that would be assessed? A lot of the most dangerous people I know. would check with others what is involved and just give the required answers to tick the box. If the real test produced a "Dangerous as Hell" answer they would be proud of it, and wear it as a badge of honour. Nev

I agree, and I don't really have a problem with that. I don't have a problem with passengers taking on such risk either. The only problem I have is when the passenger doesn't know what they are getting into.

 

 

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I had one approach me one day who had gone flying with someone who had crashed it with him in it. He put the view that being issued with a licence (certificate) SHOULD mean he can fly a plane. I agree absolutely with THAT. Perhaps we should fail more. I've made this point before. You would have to be sure you failed the RIGHT ones. Leaving your mates IN might not get the correct result. Nev

 

 

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I had one approach me one day who had gone flying with someone who had crashed it with him in it. He put the view that being issued with a licence (certificate) SHOULD mean he can fly a plane. I agree absolutely with THAT. Perhaps we should fail more. I've made this point before. You would have to be sure you failed the RIGHT ones. Leaving your mates IN might not get the correct result. Nev

That WAS the case in the prescriptive era when a government inspector tested you and signed off that you were competent, or an inspector looked at your crane and ticketed the hydraulics, winch and cables, or checked that your lion cage had bars of x diameter x spacing and x height and there was a public restrain fence six feet from the bars, or where the spectators at a speedway were restrained by a fence twelve feet from the safety fence, buses must be inspected every few months, and must have prop shaft guards and dozens of other embellishments thought up by the bureaucrats.

 

Interesting enough the bitching and crying then was that these prescriptions were "not practical", "caused accidents", restricted our freedoms and rights" etc

 

But you could defend yourself against the most outrageous accidents by zipping your mouth, and then proving you had complied with the ACT, which may have been written when horses and carts were cutting edge.

 

I can recall, asking Victoria's Minister for Sport and Recreation for the speedway safety regulations the government inspectors used. His reply was you can make them whichever way you choose (leaving out the part about "because they will be suing you now, not us")

 

This is not a legal discussion, so you should talking to PL lawyers if you want correct and latest legal information on your exposure, but from the cases I've been involved in there seem to be three elements.

 

(a) You need to warn passengers that what you are doing is high risk, and what those risks might be [without negating that by saying "never mind, I'm a safe pilot and it's not going to happen today"] This can be in the form of a pre-signed agreement, and part of it is making sure the passenger is aware of the plaque on the aircraft. The benefits of doing this were shown in the NSW case where a pilot, who had not been legally negligent, successfully defended a claim from a passenger who was injured in an accident.

 

The case we lost was an injury to a child at an event promoted as a family event where there was no safety warning.

 

(b) Having warned passengers, even saying they engaged in the activity at their own risk, you have to ensure they know they have the right to claim if there is negligence.

 

In the case we lost there we have a safety notice in the Programme but were alleged to have been negligent and the claimant didn't know he could sue.

 

© You have to exercise your Duty of Care - not be negligent, and the basis of the Donoghue v Stevenson case is that this doesn't have to be intended on your part but can be quite accidental, something you just forgot etc. and these days if a lion bites a child it was up to you to decide the size of the bars, gates an fences, so if there's a bite, that's negligence, even if the kid was hanging his arms over your fence and you hadn't thought that was reasonable because "people should look after their own safety/show airmanship etc" (which we see again and again in these threads)

 

So for the Pilot in Command (as against Jetski rider), among other things you would be assessing might be:

 

the airfield owner's activities, which might include, as I once experienced driving a tractor mower along the edge of the runway as I was about to touch down with an Instructor on board.

 

The standard of your training (such as signing you off when you knew you weren't ready)

 

The servicing of the aircraft (such as an owner specifying to a LAME that spark plugs were not to be changed even though there was amiss in the engine)

 

And your own expected performance as PIC (which includes medical)

 

And remember that where you know that what you are doing is wrong you step up to Culpable Negligence which is a crime, which could see you sent to prison for Manslaughter, and end your chances of serving on Councils etc.

 

If this all sounds a bit scary, remember that culpable negligence is entirely voluntary ( although if you want to play dumb I think it includes the term "ought to have known")

 

So you just have to adopt a go/no-go policy - If something is not right you just don't go, if something requires training - you do it until you are competent, if passengers need to be warned, you do it to the extent that they know the risks, and they know what not to do to put the aircraft in danger.

 

Bear in mind you can give the passenger a written list of his risks an rights and time to read it before the flight including what's on the plaque, and that will allow you to keep the briefing short enough that he will retain it. A friend of mine is a survivor of the Comoras crash resulting from a hijack, and most of the passengers who did not survive inflated their life jackets before the aircraft hit the water and floated up to the rear of the aircraft where they eventually drowned.

 

For your mandatory pax brief I don't think telling your passenger what you will do in an EFATO is a problem if you keep it short - many pilots have died after passengers screamed at them to keep going into cloud etc, so putting and expected action into his head is not going to do much harm.

 

Nick, as to your concerns about the passenger's rights to a safe flight, the above should eventually result in what you are looking for. It might take one or two successful lawsuits or imprisonments, but it happens very quickly. The road construction industry changed almost overnight after a prison sentence given to the owner of a contracting company who had instructed and operator to drive a roller with faulty brakes for example.

 

 

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There is a BIG difference between what I've outlined and scaring your passengers, and you should never do that.

I agree. The whole point of doing an in depth passenger briefing in my opinion is to reassure them, not scare them. I want them to know that I've done everything in my power to reduce the risk of the flight. That includes having good EFATO options, not flying in marginal weather, etc, etc. If your starting point is that on average you're 10x more likely to die in a small plane than a car, but you can reassure your passengers that 80% of light plane crashes are a result of x, y, z factors that we don't have on this flight, then you can effectively explain to them that the risk of having a crash has been reduced from 10x to 2x, a number that many would find acceptable. Of course you might want to explain it in a more reassuring way, but that's the nuts and bolts of it.

 

 

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The same question could and should be asked of any driver you choose to get into a Motor vehicle with and go cruising down the freeway. How do you know the competency of the driver, how much sleep he has had, whether he is on drugs or not, or his mental capacity. You will be travelling down the open highway or freeway at closing speeds of up to 220kph and passing within a metre of oncoming traffic.

 

 

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The same question could and should be asked of any driver you choose to get into a Motor vehicle with and go cruising down the freeway. How do you know the competency of the driver, how much sleep he has had, whether he is on drugs or not, or his mental capacity. You will be travelling down the open highway or freeway at closing speeds of up to 220kph and passing within a metre of oncoming traffic.

True, but for a number of reasons, we're a little better trained to recognise the risk factors on the roads. There have been big campaigns for decades about the risks of drink driving and drugs, so if you get in the car with a drink driver, you should know better. Just look at the recent campaign against texting and driving for an example of the govt trying to make people aware of the risks of driving. Same with driving fast. If you're passenger is safety conscious, they will probably have something to say as you go past 200kmh. But with aviation, if you go to take off in a Jabiru from a 300m strip on a gusty day 100kg over MTOW, most passengers won't have any idea of the added risks they are assuming in such a situation.

 

 

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I've NEVER been comfortable about taking passengers in RAAus planes. I think we leave ourselves very exposed to liability. Most times it is another pilot with me , or I'm with them in their plane. My wife has never flown with me in an RAAus plane.. She was always there in the Citabria, when I had it. IF you are working for an organisation in GA and they do most of the things correctly, You have a chance, but I found the weather to be one of the biggest problems. The Forecasts are often wrong and you can't sue the BOM. . You WILL get caught out one day. It's still happening to airlines. Nev

 

 

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Wow! There are some scary thoughts out there. Perhaps we should rank risks in descending order from RPT to GA twins to GA singles to GA Experimental to RA LSA to RA self-build to RA trikes/ powered chutes to gliding to parachuting etc etc. everyone will have their own view of this risk order and some data to back it up and may single out makes and models. In my judgment the chance of a problem is similar for my RA and GA flying except that I can glide a lot further and land a lot slower in my RA craft, which makes it safer. And much safer than the same cross country trip by car.

 

I would tell any passenger that we will be much safer doing this 800km trip by air than by road. That is, safer the way I fly in the conditions in which I fly in the aircraft I choose to fly. Other people are flying with dodgy engines in marginal weather and so on but that doesn't affect the safety of my flying. Each of us has control of what we do, we are not slaves to any statistics.

 

 

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I would tell any passenger that we will be much safer doing this 800km trip by air than by road. That is, safer the way I fly in the conditions in which I fly in the aircraft I choose to fly. Other people are flying with dodgy engines in marginal weather and so on but that doesn't affect the safety of my flying. Each of us has control of what we do, we are not slaves to any statistics.

That's all very well until something goes wrong and your pax gets hurt. I assume you're not immune from something going wrong?

 

If that does happen the pax can sue you to the ends of the earth because you told them that by flying with you it'd be safer than going by road. Statistics will demonstrate that you mislead them and you will pay.

 

From your comments so far PM I'd reckon you'd benefit from running these comments past a legal adviser ... to me you seem to be putting your head in a noose, so to speak.

 

 

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I have no doubt that point to point GA flying is safer per km than driving. Exclude air work ( mustering etc) exclude training exclude circuit practice exclude pushing on into marginal wx, exclude RA entirely if you like ( because there are some relatively unreliable aeroplanes, engines and pilots) and you are left with a safer activity than most recreational activities. I took my eldest daughter flying for the first time when she was six weeks old, in a bassinet, 40 years ago. I have flown several family members across Bass Straight on one engine. Yes, there is a risk, but it is no more than driving on an Australian road or riding a motorbike on the highway, as my wife and I do regularly.

 

I agree that I should minimise the risk of being sued, but have to balance that against frightening passengers unnecessarily. I appreciate this discussion and it will help me to get the balance right.

 

 

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PM I think you've nailed my sentiments and I really wish it was more commonly discussed in such a way, especially in the media. It's so hard to communicate the real risk of travelling in a small plane when the only thing people know about small planes is based on the crash reports in the news.

 

Even the risks that are seemingly hard to mitigate can he reduced. For example installing an AoA indicator will help to reduce your chance of a stall / spin accident. Having a BRS system can increase your odds in a number of scenarios where the odds are stacked against you. And of course, making a commitment to ongoing training and practice will help increase your odds versus the average pilot.

 

We will never be able to fully mitigate each risk, but I agree that it's definitely possible to reduce the risk below driving on a highway.

 

 

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I have no doubt that point to point GA flying is safer per km than driving. Exclude air work ( mustering etc) exclude training exclude circuit practice exclude pushing on into marginal wx, exclude RA entirely if you like ( because there are some relatively unreliable aeroplanes, engines and pilots) and you are left with a safer activity than most recreational activities. Yes, there is a risk, but it is no more than driving on an Australian road or riding a motorbike on the highway, as my wife and I do regularly.

I'm not taking a shot at you because I'm making a point that just because people keep saying "it's safer than driving", or "you could get killed on the way to the airport doesn't make recreational flying any less of a high risk sport.

 

These statistics are very very rough (and not necessarily current, so just for an example), but a plaintiff's lawyers could pull something like this together in an hour or so:

 

Licensed Drivers/Riders in Victoria: one fatality per 17,000 drivers/riders in a year

 

Certificated RA pilots: one fatality per 1,300 per year.

 

So your life expectancy chances are in that proportion of participants.

 

Even if you presented these figures there would still be plenty of people who would like to go for a ride, so backing what Head in the Clouds just said, it's better to just do a factual briefing without any embellishments.

 

 

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"For example installing an AoA indicator will help to reduce your chance of a stall / spin accident"

 

I do wonder in these days of gimmicks & toys so readily available if the basis of VFR flying is being lost by some people. Head outside and fly an attitude not make believe IFR. I assume in light aircraft people are still being taught to fly a circuit with the ASI covered? What happens if a bug flies down the pitot tube, it does happen (I accept not regularly).

 

Head outside, fly an attitude, confirm with instruments and enjoy your flying. It is not a computer sim. or IFR.

 

 

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