Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Dangers of Private Planes?

Update, 24 Jul 2014: The president of the AOPA responded to the NY Times op-ed.

Yesterday, the New York Times published an op-ed piece on the dangers of private planes. Most people don't realize, on average, there's one incident each day that the NTSB investigates. Few of these incidents are fatal. Regardless, all of these incidents are reported, publicly, in their database. Ninety-four percent of the fatal incidents involve general aviation (GA). GA flights cover everything outside of commercial scheduled flights and government flights. In other words, GA flights include operations like charter, corporate, balloon, glider, and small plane flights to name a few.

The op-ed author reasoned that GA flights – especially by private pilots – are susceptible to accidents because most are amateur pilots. That makes sense. A pilot flying a few hours per month isn't going to be as good as a professional pilot doing it a few hours every day. The author proposed:
The F.A.A. should require all general aviation pilots to carry liability insurance, which would force them to have better training.

Most Americans would be surprised to learn that a private pilot, unlike an automobile driver, isn't required to have insurance. I personally carry a "smooth million" worth of insurance which covers liability and hull damage in the air or on the ground. But carrying liability insurance, alone, isn't a high bar to set in terms of safety since insurance companies don't look too hard at how many hours/year a pilot flies. Instead, they're more concerned with the cost and size of the plane. To qualify for my insurance I only required seven hours of formal flight instruction in my plane.

Insurance requirements does not equal proficiency. Instead, the FAA's biennial flight review sets the standard.

I'm wondering why the op-ed author makes no mention of the biennial flight review requirement. Being current and experienced is the key to being a better pilot. Flying through the clouds, especially low clouds when landing, requires a pilot to fly six published approaches every six months. It's practice and FAA requirements like this which will improve a pilot's skills. Insurance is the wrong tool to solve this problem.

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