“Recent Experience” Rules Safety!

If you study any safety statistics, the one solid correlation in every data set determining safe outcomes is “recency of (correct) experience.” This relationship continues as you drill down to include make and model and builds with all relevant conditions -night/weather etc. (until you cross the line into complacency). After the recent pandemic, we are all less current than we should be (and consequently less safe) and there has been a lot of conjecture about the consequences of “rusty pilots!” Safety in the current environment requires adding wider margins to our operations and simultaneously perusing retraining as we regrow the industry and tune up our skills; every pilot is somewhat “rusty.”

We now have actual data on “rusty pilots” from the recent 2021 Bombardier Safety Standdown . Manual handling incidents (the first skills to deteriorate with disuse) are up a shocking 1000% according to pilot reporting system data. This is a huge jump.  SAFE member Paul “BJ” Ransbury’s talk at the stand down, cites this data and offers solutions. Paul is CEO of Aviation Performance Solutions offering state-of-the-art upset training (free course here). Only savvy (appropriately cautious) operators with increased safety margins have prevented the same increase in accident statistics. Every pilot would be wise to similarly increase their personal minimums as we sharpen our skills. Every pilot needs to engage in some personal skill and knowledge building.

One of the known statistical accident buffers is represented in the “Heinrich pyramid.” This theory basically states that only a small percentage of “unsafe actions” results in “serious injury or substantial damage.” This is due largely to luck and circumstances – not a responsible barrier.  Basically, Heinrich’s Law turns “Murphy’s Law” on its head and says “most of the time we actually get away stupid acts.” The unfortunate result (re: Heinrich) is that “getting away with it” can reinforce unsafe behaviors and build BAD habits. In aviation, solid, relevant training is the only solid antidote to rust – not just “experimentation.”

in a workplace, for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries.

As GA pilots the FAA SAFO 17007 cited by Paul in his talk is unfortunately of little help, since this document mostly deals with larger flight departments with safety managers with bigger programs. In GA we are responsible for our own “safety program.” Though every pilot should dig into the stand-down talks, a more relevant target is the FAA WINGS and AOPA Focused Flight Review syllabi. As you progress further try some SAFE Extended Envelope Training with your CFI. We *all* need a refresher and reboot of both normal and emergency procedures. For CFIs, take a look at the FREE Sporty’s FIRC This is a very generous gift from Sportys (and yes you can extend your CFI *before* it expires) Tune up your instructional knowledge along with your skills. A good pilot/CFI is always learning- fly safely out there (and often)!


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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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