THE LATEST DISEASE FOR GENERAL AVIATION
By Gene Benson, Pilot and Aviation Educator
Much like certain infectious diseases that ebb and flow over time, Loss of Directional Control, (LODC), has experienced a large outbreak in our pilot community. There have been efforts to contain it, reduce its spread or eradicate it, but there is no vaccine to prevent it nor a magic elixir to cure it. It is up to each pilot to do their part.
A daily check of the FAA Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) reports has been showing alarming numbers of runway excursions and overruns along with numerous taxi accidents/incidents. Once cataloged, most of these will include “loss of directional control” in the probable cause finding.
The most recent of these do not yet have a final report. However, a search of the NTSB database for the most recently completed investigations lists probable causes that we would expect. Here is a representative sampling.
The pilot's improper continuation of a landing in which he landed too far down the runway at too high a speed, which resulted in a loss of directional control and a runway excursion.
The pilot’s loss of directional control during takeoff with a fogged wind screen and sun glare, which resulted in a runway excursion and a collision with a taxiway sign.
The pilot's improper landing flare in gusting crosswind conditions, which resulted in the airplane porpoising and a subsequent loss of directional control, runway excursion, and nose-over.
The pilot’s improper decision to reject the takeoff at an excessive speed, resulting in a runway excursion and collision with a fence. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to lock the door as required by the placarded door closing procedures.
The pilot's loss of directional control while landing in a gusty crosswind, which resulted in a runway excursion and subsequent impact with terrain.
The pilot’s improper landing flare which resulted in a bounced landing, loss of directional control and subsequent collision with a hangar.
The pilot's failure to maintain directional control during a soft field takeoff.
The pilot’s inadequate preflight inspection, during which he failed to ensure the landing gear handle in the “down” position which resulted in the landing gear retracting during takeoff, a loss of directional control, and a runway excursion.
The pilot’s failure to maintain directional control during the rejected takeoff with a left quartering crosswind that shifted to a tailwind.
The pilot's loss of directional control during takeoff with a crosswind.
The pilot's improper decision to turn the airplane from the runway onto the taxiway at an excessive speed, which resulted in a loss of directional control, runway excursion, and collision with a taxiway sign.
The pilot’s inadequate preflight inspection which resulted in a failure of the right main landing gear tire on landing rollout, a subsequent loss of directional control, and landing gear collapse.
The pilot’s failure to maintain proper airspeed on approach and his attempt to land on a wet runway with insufficient runway remaining, resulting in an overrun and loss of directional control.
The pilot’s failure to maintain control during takeoff in a crosswind, which resulted in abnormal runway contact and a runway excursion.
Nearly all these accidents result from a pilot deviating from something basic. All certificated pilots have been instructed in these basics and have passed practical and/or knowledge examinations in them. Regardless of what our skill and knowledge levels were at one time, we all need effective, periodic, recurrent training in these areas. We are human, and as such, we can easily allow complacency or bad habits to creep in.
A common causal factor in LODC during landing is continuing an unstabilized approach or failing to adequately compensate for a crosswind or tailwind. The former can be mitigated by reviewing the criteria for a stabilized approach and vowing to discontinue any approach that becomes unstabilized. The latter can be mitigated by setting realistic personal minimums for wind and verifying wind conditions before making an approach. If in doubt, divert to an airport with better runway alignment. Of course, recent recurrent training from a competent instructor, in an airplane, dealing with actual crosswind conditions, is the only way for most GA pilots to maintain proficiency. Tailwinds are bad news for landings and should be avoided if possible.
Our common causal factors for LODC during takeoff again include crosswinds and tailwinds and again we recommend recurrent training for crosswinds and avoiding tailwinds altogether. Another frequent causal factor for LODC on takeoff is attempting to use a runway that is too short given existing density altitude conditions. An aborted takeoff at a high speed without the benefit of anti-skid systems like in most of our cars often ends somewhere other than on the runway. Mitigation here is thorough aircraft performance planning with a generous safety margin built in and a commitment to abort the takeoff early if there is any doubt as to its successful outcome. A less common, but recurring LODC causal factor during takeoff is the unlatched cabin door or baggage compartment door. Checking and double-checking all latches before engine start is the best mitigation I can offer for that.
Contracting this LODC disease can be dangerous to our health and well-being. It can also really sting the pocketbook and result in significant airplane downtime because of the current shortage of replacement parts. Let’s do all we can to avoid being infected by LODC disease.
Go here to view the following recurrent training courses (and others) to do your part:
“Many Happy Returns - Avoiding Runway Excursions and Overruns”
Free Online Wings Credit Course as well as YouTube video for Many Happy Returns (no Wings credit)
“Takeoff Briefing” (YouTube Short) Note – No Wings Credit for watching this video.
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Gene Benson has had a lifetime of aviation experience. He has lived and breathed aviation from his first official flying lesson at the age of 14, to his first solo on his sixteenth birthday, to his 8,000 hours of flight instruction given. He has served as the Dean of Aeronautics for an aviation college, as an instructor for a major domestic airline, consultant to several foreign and domestic airlines, and to business aviation. His academic background includes degrees in psychology, education, and business. His specialty now is the application of human factors to error reduction and safety in aviation and other industries. He is presently a FAASTeam Lead Representative and has recently served as a member of the NBAA Safety Committee. View Gene’s work at genebenson.com and https://www.vectorsforsafety.com/.
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