Contract Airline Services

"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Monday, December 1, 2014

General Aviation Safety

I finished the first quarter of my PhD Program! Mind expansion and lessons learned left me with new perspectives on Ab Initio Training, NextGen, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and the future of General Aviation. And today in Blogging Information is on Flight To Success. Perfect timing.

Did you know...

“General Aviation accounts for roughly 87% of the almost 600,000 U.S. certified pilots, and makes use of more than 13,000 public and private airports. General aviation pilots log roughly 27 million hours per year. There are about 221,000 general aviation aircraft based in the U.S. and they carry more than 166 million passengers each year, making the GA fleet the largest air carrier in the world” (Casner, 2007, p. 595).

In 2007, general aviation pilots with under 500 hours total time and those with less than 100 hours in aircraft type held the highest percentage of all accidents, 34% and 47% respectively. As experience increased accident rates went down to 2% for both categories. However, data showed an interesting turn—once total flight hours increased above 4000 and / or a pilot reached 1000 hours in type, the accident rate increased to 19% and 14% respectively.

Low experience and accidents is understandable during the learning curve phase, but why the shift? More experience could lead to riskier operations and complacency, but does it have to? The final week of my Human Factors course was about general aviation and the accident rate. I noticed a few common threads attributing to GA accidents:

Peer pressure—doing something you would not normally do on your own.

Time pressure—feeling the need to be someplace and pushing your limits.

Broken habits—skipping a preflight or neglecting the weight and balance.

Overconfidence—doing something in a plane you should not be doing due to complacency.

The above examples are all situations that a pilot has under his or her control. So I must ask…what is more important than your life? Why are so many falling into the complacency trap? I’ve been thinking about the overregulation of the aviation industry—could it be tied to the high accident rate?

We want to take control of our industry to have a cost effective means for people to learn to fly, but are you willing to do what it takes to make it safer? If general aviation accidents continue to increase, will ensuing regulations make it cost prohibitive for pilots to learn to fly? We all have the ability to improve safety.

What You Can Do:

Learning: Continue your education. Never stop learning. Work toward a new rating, even if you don’t plan on using it. As you work through your training, you will learn skills that can help in all aspects of your flying and make you better.

Skill Development: When you fly don’t just go for a ride, work to improve your skills—always strive for better.

Discipline: Create habits that you are committed to, and refuse to break. Perform your walk-around in the same footprint every flight. Create standard operating procedures so your processes become habit.

Instinct: When something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Listen to that voice that questions what you’re about to do, and don’t do it.

Hang up the cape: Check the ego outside the plane and understand you are human and fallible.

Join Aviation Clubs: You should become a member of one or more of our grass-root aviation clubs: AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association), EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association), LAMA (Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association), NAFI (National Association of Flight Instructors), SPA (Seaplane Pilots Association) WAI (Women In Aviation) and Ninety-Nines. Newsletters, magazines, and pilot support are available and should be accessed. These clubs are for all pilots, not just general aviation.

December is upon us and with that comes the worst weather combined with holiday stress. This month think about what you can do to operate a little safer so you will be alive to enjoy the holidays with your loved ones. Become resolute in establishing a safety culture to live by. Make a safety resolution for the New Year.

What will you do to keep proficient and safe?

Share your ideas, and together 
we can make the skies safer!

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene

Thank you For Reading...


"The power of the pen the Truth in Fiction"
Flight For Control and Flight For Safety 
Amazon Comments are appreciated too!

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene


Casner, S., M., (2010). General Aviation. In E. Salas & D. Maurino (Eds.), Human factors in aviation (2nd ed.) (pp. 595-623). Burlington, MA: Academic Press – Elsevier.


  1. Great BIF post, with some insightful points!

    Fascinating about the unexpected increase at 4k/500hrs. I agree, your "probable causes" are quite probable!

    I know that every time I start getting a little overconfident (i.e. complacent) in Fifi (my Airbus A321), she rises up and smites me! Fortunately, the only thing banged up is the pilot ego, and once again I become a humbler, wiser pilot.

    I agree: When it comes to aviation, NEVER STOP LEARNING!
    Eric "Cap'n Aux" Auxier

    1. Thanks for the comment Eric! Isn't that the truth... just when we think we got it figured out, then we get taught another lesson. Always keep learning for sure!

  2. Interesting statistics there Karlene! I like the suggestions that you've made in the section titled "What you can do". That should basically cover everything. Leave the cape at the door was a funny but apt suggestion :)

    I'm glad you mentioned about joining AOPA, EAA etc..since I spotted a floatplane, I'd suggest membership of the Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA) as well, they are great advocates for Seaplane flying in the US (and there are global chapters as well) and SPA is also talking to AOPA to set up a seaplane based flying club that may be open to members. Hopefully that will be sometime soon. Cheers!

    1. Anup, Thank you so much for the great comment and the suggestion. Can't believe I missed SPA! They are now updated. So true... they are a great organization! And that would be awesome if AOPA set up a seaplane based flying club.

  3. Quite the coincidence Karlene that I just discovered your blog this past weekend and when I opened it this morning, there is a post on safety...serendipity! Unfortunately, I fit your accident profile perfectly--less than 500 total hours and less than 100 hours in type--when I flipped the RV-7A that I had just recently completed.
    Keep up the good work. I love your site, will be a regular visitor, and appreciate your emphasis on keeping all of us aware and alive.

    1. Chuck, thank you so much for the comment. That is kind of amazing you fit in those stats. I wonder what the current stats are for this year... I would be interested to see if it decreased or not. Thank you so much for being a regular visitor too! So much appreciated.

  4. I noticed those statistics about GA are from 2007. That was the year before the financial crisis. I wonder what they'd be in 2014. Based on what I see at the GA airports I travel to, it wouldn't surprise me if those figures were down 30-40%. I don't think the accident rate (fatal or non) has changed, but pilots are flying fewer hours, and that means less currency. From where I sit, that's one of the biggest challenges for GA safety. It's hard to maintain skillsets when you don't fly more than 30 or 40 hours in a year.

    Many people look at the GA accident rate and compare it with the airlines and say we should be like American or Delta. Problem is, this is not the same kind of flying. It's apples and oranges.

    GA represents diversity and freedom. You can't make bush flying, floats, gliders, aerobatics, formation, warbirds, antiques, or single engine recips as safe as a multi-engine turbojet operated within the strictest Part 121 parameters. Trying to do so won't "fix" the GA accident rate, but it will kill in the industry with higher costs and decreased utility. GA is infinityly more flexible and diverse than the airlines, but the lower safety record is part of the price we pay for that.

    1. I second your argument. In addition to all the human factors mentioned by Karlene, your point about less currency is a very important contributing factor. As for your point about the Part 121 standards/tougher regulations applying to GA would kill GA, is also valid. Europe is a perfect example of GA gone down/non existent because of over regulation and high cost. Combination of both and a few other factors. Similar stories in Asia as well, however that is slowly changing.

      The U.S. still has the best GA environment, hope that remains and in fact find ways to make that sector grow. The key to future growth will be more women and more diversified pilot background than what we have at present. Of course cost is a major factor.

      I do wonder sometimes, with fuel and other costs going down, whether aviation still attracts people the way it did in our generation that grew up without tablets and smart phones and spent a lot of time outdoors dreaming about blue skies and freedoms. These days gadgets seem to hold sway, has the sense of adventure dwindled?

    2. Ron, thank you so much for the comment. That would be interesting to see what the stats are today. The authors of the text got those stats from AOPA... I bet we could find current data. That data in itself would be interesting on the numbers flying today.
      Yes... GA is so much more challenging that the airlines. More risk, etc. And you are right, there is no way to fit it GA into the 121 model. But, there are procedures and lessons GA pilots could learn. Every human factors error on the commercial side has been delved into and figured out what caused it, and how to fix it. Sadly, the same accidents keep occurring in the GA world without improvement. Nobody learns from the errors. Why do you think?
      The greatest challenge is how GA will fit in with NextGen. The airports GA will be able to fly will decrease and airspace will be a challenge.
      Thanks again for the comment.

    3. I think the biggest way to fix some of those safety problems in GA is for people to take it upon themselves to learn from the accidents the way that airlines and military members are forced to. Having not personally searched yet I have no idea how hard they are to find, but like so many things, if they aren't spoon-fed most people will not put forth the effort, even if it could save their life.

    4. Dave, you hit that on the head. Why don't people know why these accidents happened? I'm thinking if there were a communication network, that could help so many! We might have to figure out how to make this happen.

  5. Great article Karlene! The education tip and challenging your skill level got me think about the flight school Bryan and I use. They offer with a club membership a lower cost for aircraft rentals and 1 hour free instructor time per month.

    Many of the non-student pilots rarely take up the school on the free instructor hour, probably thinking, they don't need it. But there is always more you can learn, so why not go up w/ an instructor each month and not just for a check-out for annual.

    1. Wow, What a great concept! And very proactive thinking on that free hour of instruction. I think there is always something to learn. I would use them for sure. Thank you so much for the comment.

  6. Hi Karlene,

    Congrats on the first term done. I bet it feels great. The statistics you present are very interesting. Personally, I'm not surprised by either sets--inexperienced or experienced accident rates. One thing I know from personal experience it becomes very hard to stay at the highest level of skill I can possibly be when I've done the same thing for years and years. The older I get it sure gets harder to stay good.

    I have thoughts on how to minimize this. I try to practice it as much as I can in my everyday flying activities.



    1. Thank you! It does feel great to be done. One down. And you're right, when you have done something so often, it is hard to be the best. I like the idea of earning new ratings. Every time I did, I learned something new beyond the new plane. My gift when I finish the entire program... another checkout in something. Keep practicing, is the answer. Thanks so much for the comment!

  7. Karlene.. Not sure if my first comment went through, however, I am doing a retype hoping I will copy my first comment in the future just in case (wink).

    OK.. Going to spotlight your comments on "What You Can Do" section. Specifically, Discipline and Creating Standard Operating Procedures. You mentioned the magical word I was looking for: HABIT.

    Once bad habits are changed then any operator of any aircraft, whether GenAv or CommAv can make all of those categories above happen as habit centers around all. Especially when bad learning and ego habits are broken, then any pilot can succeed in having a safe flight.

    Thank you for a great post and as it turns out my second attempt at replying turned out to be better than my first! Thinking about you all in rainy "Seattle like" NYC...

    PS, amazing book (wink)

    XO Jeremy.

    1. Thank you Jeremy! And speaking of Habit...that was the chapter I was working on today. A powerful word for sure. Oh...and it sunny and cold in Seattle. Just beautiful! Thank you so much for the comment.

  8. The source you cite is behind a paywall, so I was unable to look at the data directly. But I am skeptical of your interpretation that higher time pilots behave riskier. I think a more likely explanation is pilots with 4,000 or more total hours simply fly a lot more hours per year, and therefore have higher exposure to potential incidents of all types in any particular year.

    1. Thank you for your comment Ross. Yes, that was one of the mentioned assumptions. But the interesting thing is 1000 hour pilots are in the air twice as many hours as the 500. 2000 and 3000 those numbers are in the sky significantly more than the 500. Something about the 4000 mark that jumped up. Perhaps it's not riskier behavior, but more complacency because of overconfidence. Kind of tied together however. But, that number the accidents jumped.

      But then, you have to ask... just because you are exposed to more potential because you're out there more hours... that should not manifest in an accident because you should be better than those lower time pilots. Exposure should not correlate to higher time accidents. Actually, higher time hours were probably longer flights.. meaning less takeoffs and landings, which are the most prevalent to accidents.
      Thank you for the comment. You brought up a great point!

  9. Congrats on finishing the 1st quarter, that's fantastic!!!

    1. Thank you Heather! And today I finished Flight to Success. One more read and off to line editors. So excited!

  10. Hey Karlene, just weighing in now, but I want to get the word about this article because it touches an incredibly important subject. The viability of General Aviation depends upon the safety of the pilots and passengers. The higher the accident rate, the lower the likelihood people will want to risk getting airborne.

    In line with some of the other comments on here, I too believe there is a certain experience level that is more prone to accident and it seems to be that sweet spot you mentioned. To back that up, the book "The Killing Zone" by Paul A. Craig, Ed.D. defines it as consisting of pilots with 50-350 total flight time. He also approaches the subject of frequency. He says driving a car is 200 times more dangerous than flying a GA aircraft, with the caveat that we're on the road a LOT more than we are in the air. So as you mentioned previously about the 4,000 hour pilot - it's a less accident-prone pilot exposed to more opportunities for accidents.

    I'm glad you covered this topic. It gets everyone thinking about what they have to do to live through their next flight. As an old fighter pilot once said, "dogfights aren't won in the moment - the victory is a result of months of preparation". I think the same can be said for a successful GA flight!

    1. Rob, Thank you so much for the comment and the tip on another great book to read. I have thought about this frequency aspect a lot since Ross brought it up.
      So here's the deal... I can see that if the person is exposing himself to something he is not under control the more exposures the likely it will get you. Somewhat like going to the hospital. My husband finally picked up one (many) of those hospital germs that could kill. My thought was, we were due. After all the visits with my family, and never having that problem, the odds were to get us. Because, we had been to the hospital so many times and a certain percentage of all people going to the hospital will pick up a secondary infection.

      However, there are no odds of the aviation environment "getting" a pilot because of the number of hours of exposure. Yes, for the inexperienced because they do not know how to meet the unexpected of that exposure. But... a 4000 hour pilot should have experienced everything, and more so... KNOW the type of weather he should not fly in, and when not to push his plane.

      I was going to fly with frost on my wings because I did not know better when I was a private pilot. But, a 4000 hour pilot should not to.

      If the weather, environment, etc was beyond his control I would agree. And while weather is beyond our control, the decision to go into that weather or those situations is within our control. More experience should know better.

      So... why do they go into environments, or fly planes they should not? Overconfidence... they did it before they can do it again. Over-ability, thinking they are good enough, a little ice on the wings, and 40 knot winds won't hurt me. Etc.

      There is a GREAT book you should read.
      Deep Survival. Who lives, who dies, and why, by Laurence Gonzales.

      I'm really liking this discussion. We might need to carry it forward! Thank you so much!!

      Thus, this exposure cycles in a plane is a good thought, but more I'm thinking it should not be an excuse.

  11. Congrats on finishing Term 1 of PhD!

    I attended a day long seminars at NTSB earlier this year focusing on GA Safety. A lot of interesting statistics were presented from 2008-2012 and the changing trends in the causes of accidents.

    Over the years, there appears to be a shift from weather as a key factor to Loss of Control (LOC) as the primary reason for accidents.

    Here is the link to the presentation:

    And here is the link to the other presentations from that day

    1. Thank you! And Thank you!!! I'm wondering why LOC is causing these accidents. This is interesting. I'm looking forward to checking out these presentations!
      Many thanks for sending to all! I would love those stats. So... if there was one problem, what do you think it is?

  12. You touched on the one thing that is always in our control no matter how experienced we are as a pilot, and that is judgement. Even a pilot with one hour has to exercise good judgement if they are going to survive that second hour.

    Just last week I went up with a friend in his Piper Cub that we had been trying to do for a month or more. After ten minutes we landed because the winds just weren't safe in such a small plane. That is why I am happy to fly with him again because I know he will never knowingly do something unsafe.

    I also find the habit discussion interesting because getting into too much of a habit can also be dangerous. There is a balance we must find between having a habit pattern so we notice when something changes, and being so stuck in our habits that we follow them into an unsafe situation. I actually wrote about this recently myself.

    1. Dave, Thank you for the great comment. Yes, good judgment is essential. And, we all know that sometimes we make poor decisions because we didn't know any better. That's why I am such a proponent of learning as much as you can. When I was new to flying, I know you couldn't fly with Ice, but frost on a sunny day... wouldn't the sun melt it? Ahhh... being new and naive. I guess that's why they say experience will either kill you or make you a better pilots.

      Great friend you have there. You must know your own limitations. I had forgotten years ago that I was flying a cessna 182 and the winds were something fierce. I called to have someone with experience come and help me get the plane home. However, I did not remember doing this. I was reminded years later. But that sounds like something I would do.

      Habits are good and they can be powerfully bad too. The balance is the key for sure. Thank you again for the great comment.

  13. Safety must always be paramount,and I remember the words of my carpentry teacher at school,"Measure twice,cut once".
    It applies in the cockpit too.
    Have a wonderful Christmas & New Year to everyone.

    1. John, I love that! Yes... it does apply to aviation. Merry Christmas to you too!!! And the happiest New Year!


Thank you for your comment! If your comment doesn't appear immediately, it will after I land. Enjoy the journey!