Beyond the “Stupid Pilot” View of Safety!

You have undoubtedly heard the “stupid pilot” statistic endlessly repeated in safety meetings: human error is responsible for 80% of aviation accidents. This statistic is true if you only study and quantify aviation accidents  – a very small part of aviation activity. However, this methodology is like studying divorce to understand marriage. The obsession with errors and omissions – “never do this” – is a reactive, command and control approach to safety – the “whack a mole” strategy. It ignores the fact that most of the time things go right. Safety should not just be “stamping out harm” but enabling pilots to be resilient and successful more of the time – proactive! “Safety 2.0” looks at the bigger picture.

Studying failure is not, by itself, a productive pathway to creating performance improvement. “Safety 2.0” is a whole new way of looking at safety; studying pilots in action being creative and resilient when “things are going right.” In reality, pilots are the constantly active “fixers,” flexing and changing plans to create greater safety during an ongoing process of monitoring and maintaining margins. When was the last time one of your flights went exactly as planned?

When we analyze “all flight activity,” safety requires constant awareness and the creative modification of preplanned missions. These are most often not herculean interventions but small continuous changes adapting to unforeseen challenges. Safety 2.0 leverages this more positive focus rather than trying to create a beautiful statue by reassembling the broken pieces. Since I first wrote about “Safety 2.0” a year ago there has been tremendous progress in this field (everywhere but in aviation!) See “Doing Safety Differently.

A command and control view of an incident depicts this check airman as a stupid pilot whereas a more productive “Safety 2.0” approach might actually reveal how automation defeated the efforts of a cautious pilot crew that ultimately resolved the confusing situation safely!  This YouTube leverages Safety 2.0 in the medical world.  Fly safely (and often)


“Checkride Ready!™” is on the (newly updated) SAFE App this week. (If you have it installed, just close and reopen for updated app.) This new section is directed toward pilot applicants and shares the common problems DPEs see repeatedly on check rides (pink slip). Download the (free) SAFE App. today!

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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