Scott Spangler has recently posted a very interesting entry (entitled Visual Distractions Still Affect Flight Safety) on Jetwhine that is well worth reading by every pilot – and not just by pilots who fly in areas with plenty of visual distractions (think spectacular scenery). Scott begins his post by commenting that when he first began learning how to fly back in the 1970s, the skies over the Los Angeles basin were already fairly crowded. However, everyone was extra careful because the smog was so bad that it almost always obscured visibility.
Then one day the skies were unusually clear where the mountains and the ocean surrounding the city were clearly visible and Scott decided it would be a perfect day to go flying. However and just as his flight instructor warned him, he soon found out why having more visibility (and hence, visual distractions) is not necessarily a good thing:
Ground and the control tower certainly seemed to be working a lot more airplanes. The flight to our practice area over the bay was akin to that of a spastic sidewinder rattlesnake as I saw and avoided multiple targets that wandered blindly through the unusually clear air.
All I really learned that day is that I didn’t like flying when you could see the mountains because too many other pilots were so distracted by the view that they spent too much time looking and didn’t put enough effort into seeing other airplanes, like the one I was flying.
Scott further mentions some reports in the latest issue of Callback (the publication of NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System) that show that visual distractions outside of the aircraft are not only still a problem but that visual distractions are increasingly showing up inside the aircraft and on the panel. He then repeats a few scary incidents from the issue and ends his post by asking a question worth asking again:
Do pilots today hand-fly anything other than take offs and landings, and does their gaze–their attention and situational awareness–stop at the instrument panel?
Definitely a question and an answer worth thinking about…
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