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Flight Profiles Improve Safety

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, May 2005

IFR Navigation:   General Info Instrument Rating | Instrument Rating Lesson Plans | 7-day IFR Rating IFR Adventure | Instrument Ground School | Safety Pilot | Holding | IFR Risk | Trip Reports | Flight Profiles | Rating Requirements | After the IFR Rating | Checkride Reviewer | Visi-Hold | Are you  ready?

Flight Profile Series: Introduction | Improving Safety | Instrument X/C | Commercial X/C

In the previous article in this series we learned the definitions of Flight Profile flying, what triggers or begins each phase, and what ends each phase.  We also had some graphic examples of typical pilot tasks during each phase.  This was presented as checklist items for each phase.   In the next two articles, we'll cover two typical flight training exercises: the long instrument X/C and the 2 commercial X/C flights. 

How can analyzing flight profiles improve safety?  Flight profiles are used to give us information on accident risks, including risk factors in our flying.  Each phase of flight provides its own unique challenges so knowing the risk factors improves our situational awareness.  This information clearly gives us information about what mistakes pilots make and so we'll spend our time thinking about those accidents and doing our best to avoid them.

In the following graph provided by Boeing, you see the typical phases as they were presented in the previous article, Introduction to Flight Profiles.  The numbers across the top refer to accidents and fatalities and what percentage of those events occur by phase.  At the bottom, it indicates the percentage of flight time you might spend in a given phase.

Phase 1 (Preflight & Engine Start) and Phase 8 (Taxi & Secure the Aircraft) are not presented in this graph.  I'll point out that 17% of the accidents happen in Phase 2: (Departure/Climb) yet it accounts for only 2% of the entire flight.  Notice that 51% of the accidents occur during Phase 7 (Landing) yet only accounts for 4% of the flight. 

Are you catching on?  The most dangerous parts of a 1.5 hour flight are Phase 2 and Phase 7 which combined account for a stunning two-thirds (68%) of accidents but only accounts for 6% of the flight time.

Flight profile, distribution of accident stats
Source: Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents, Boeing

Why is that?  As the demands of the flight wear on, pilot capabilities decrease over the length of a flight.  We know that pilot capabilities give us a margin of safety above the demands of a given flight.  If the pilot capabilities are not up to the task of a given flight, an accident results.  The margin of safety concept was created by the FAA in AC60-22 Aeronautical Decision Making.  It gives us the following flight profile considering pilot capabilities and operational demands.

Flight profile considering pilot capabilities and operational demands

Notice that as the total flight time increases, pilot capabilities during the flight decrease.  Notice the green line? That represents increased workload of a pilot at the end of the flight.  Just consider the risks associated with the final approach to landing (Phase 7):
  • Controlled Flight Into Terrain
  • Weather Conditions
  • Approach Conducted
  • Day/Night
  • Type of Operation
  • Pilot capabilities
  • Arrival Procedures
  • ATC limitations

The AOPA picked up on this about 7 years ago and started reporting accidents based upon phase of flight. This is extremely valuable analysis because it feeds the training process because we obviously want to avoid accidents.  The problem is we have not evolved from simply reporting the data.  We haven't figured out how to use this data to truly feed a training process which puts likely accident scenarios into a syllabus and it gets tested by a Flight Instructor prior to an Instrument or Commercial checkride.  What a shame and disservice...

Next:  Using Flight Profiles for the Instrument X/C >>



"Airplanes are near perfect, all they lack is the ability to forgive." -- Dick Collins, Author


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