Preventing Loss of Control in Flight Part 3: Aeronautical Decision Making

Even in ideal conditions, preventing loss of control in flight relies squarely on the pilot's ability to make good decisions.


As a response to the FAA's #FlySafe campaign, we continue our series on preventing loss of control inflight (LOC-I) with part three of four. This week, we focus on aeronautical decision making, and how it can be the difference between a LOC-I accident and a smooth flight. You can also revisit Part 1 and Part 2 to learn more about stalls and spatial disorientation, respectively.

Human factors play a key role in most LOC-I accidents. Disorientation can hinder a pilot's ability to make good aeronautical decisions and maintain aircraft control, but outside disorientation, there are a plethora of other factors that may contribute to the chain of events. Avoiding these situations revolves around a key factor: planning.

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It's personal

Many LOC-I accidents could have been prevented long before boarding the aircraft. Pre-flight planning requires a delicate balance of detail and adaptability--you want to be as thorough as possible, ensuring you have an out for any foreseeable event. But planning every single moment of a flight is impossible: change happens, and you must be able to adapt.

Acquire detailed weather reports for your route of flight, and familiarize yourself with the patterns of hazards such as fog, storms, and clouds so you are aware of what could possibly develop during your flight. Plan for IFR flight as necessary and able, or prepare to adjust your route or start time to avoid inadvertent IMC and the hazards of spatial disorientation.

You should also take into account terrain, lighting, and obstacles along the flight path. Will you be landing at night far away from city lights, or in an area with unusual topography? Will you be flying over water? Establish clear landmarks to watch for to help you orient yourself.

Do not overlook your minimums, personal or operational. It is not enough to merely "meet the legal standard" for weather, equipment, or a specific operation, but can it be done safely. Are you comfortable flying in those clouds, with that crosswind, with this equipment? Set aside time to catalog your personal minimums and decide exactly where your comfort levels lie. Once established, respect the set minimums. Don’t adjust them except as a result from conscious and well-reasoned endeavors to apply on your next flight. Don’t adjust operational minimums such an MDA(H) or stabilized approach profile altitudes.

Finally, remember the IMSAFE checklist. Before each flight, always complete a serious, honest self-check to ensure that you are fit to fly.

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Using your co-pilot

In-flight decision-making hinges on a constant cycle of planning, receiving new information and making adjustments. Use periods of low workload to prepare for high workload to help avoid over or undersaturation of tasks. If a change must be made, always ensure there is an out.

LOC-I as a result of human factors often occurs after a pilot or crew has become overloaded, whether with other tasks, concerns about changed plans or clearances, or pressure due to passenger or other outside demands. Be mentally prepared and stay focused. Do not allow distractions or other tasks to take you away from the main task: flying the aircraft. In a pinch, anything else occurring around you can wait. Do not be afraid to use your crew, passengers, or ATC as resources to help manage distractions.

Next week, we'll wrap up our series on LOC-I by talking about the specifics of some recovery techniques.

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