How to better ask (and answer) the “is flying safe” question

Ron Rapp, the pilot blogger behind the House of Rapp blog, has written a great (and lengthy) essay about answering the “is flying safe” question and more importantly, how to better phrase the question in the first place. Ron began his post by writing that over the years, he has received a wide variety of aviation-related questions from non-pilots and he has realized that a fair percentage of them are really trying to ask the same thing: Is flying safe? Specifically, Ron has heard the question phrased in the following ways:

    • How long have you been flying?
    • Do you fly much?
    • Have you ever had the engine quit?
    • Have you ever had an emergency?
    • Know anyone who’s been in a crash?
    • How much training did you have to undergo?
    • How many hours do you have?

Ron later pointed out that as a general aviation pilot, you will have a great deal of control over how much risk you are exposed to while flying. On the other hand and if you are a general aviation passenger, you will have far less control over the amount of risk you are exposed to. Hence, deciding whether or not to fly in the first place will be the most critical decision to make.

For that reason, it will be important to ask the RIGHT question or questions before taking up an offer to fly with a friend or family member. Therefore, Ron wrote that he recommends non-pilots to consider some of the same items that pilots themselves are taught to look at when assessing risk. In other words, rephrase the “is flying safe” question or if you are a pilot, rephrase your answer to address the following risk questions or considerations:

    1. Do you trust the judgment of the pilot?
    2. How much experience does the pilot have?
    3. How recent is that experience?
    4. How’s the weather? 
    5. Is the pilot experienced with the aircraft? 
    6. Is the pilot familiar with the route?
    7. Is there any pressure to make the flight?
    8. Did the aircraft just come out of the maintenance shop?

Ron ended his post by commenting that the only purely “safe” alternative is to never leave the ground but that is not an option for him and no doubt many readers of this blog.

One Response to How to better ask (and answer) the “is flying safe” question

  1. Jamie Beckett September 8, 2011 at 03:22 #

    The great irony behind the safety question is that having a dazzling smile, a full head of hair, and a flat belly have almost nothing to do with being a good pilot. Those attributes work well for a movie star, but have very little value in the cockpit when smoke starts flowing out of the cowling, or that red light on the panel starts flashing while an alarm sounds over and over again.

    The key is the ability to think. Not random thoughts about puppy dogs, or room service, or political intrigue, either. Nope, the thinking we’re interested in is known as aeronautical decision-making, and those who can do it are prized commodities. Because they recognize that the best stick man in the business won’t be in the business all that long if he (or she) doesn’t know when to stay on the ground, when to skirt well clear of that cumulonimbus cloud, and when to turn around and get back to clear air where we can find a safe place to land – soon.

    ADM, that’s the big ticket item for pilots. A high level of safety is directly connected to that abbreviation. If only more pilots took that lesson to heart, there would be more hearts beating at normal speeds during cruising flight, and fewer hearts racing as their owners sweaty palms gripped the armrests in an effort to stave off the worst case scenario that becomes increasingly imaginable as the flight continues, and degrades in every way along the route.

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