Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about the best practices to calculate and predict aircraft performance and to operate within established aircraft limitations.

A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.

A Continuing Problem
The NTSB calls it “the problem that never went away.” CFIT or Controlled Flight Into Terrain continues to claim up to 17 percent of all general aviation fatalities, even though many pilots have technologies on their side.

CFIT occurs when an airworthy aircraft, under pilot control, flies into the ground, a mountain, a body of water, or an obstacle. Most often, the pilot or crew is unaware of the looming disaster until it is too late. CFIT most commonly occurs in the approach or landing phase of flight.

Accidents where the aircraft is out of control at the point of impact are not known as CFIT. Rather, they are considered uncontrolled flight into terrain. Similarly, incidents resulting from deliberate acts, such as terrorism or suicide by the pilot, are not considered to be CFIT.

Why Does CFIT Happen?
There are many reasons why a plane might crash into terrain, but pilot error is the most common, particularly a loss of situational awareness. A pilot may not know what his or her actual position is, and how that position relates to the surrounding terrain. Fatigue can cause very experienced pilots to make mistakes.

CFIT accidents often involve a collision with terrain which usually occurs during low visibility conditions and when the aircraft is on approach to a destination airport. Other contributing factors include weather, approach design and documentation, failure to use standard phraseology, and malfunctioning navigational aids.  

GA Challenges
One of the problems in reviewing GA CFIT accidents is the lack of human factors data. This is due to the high fatality rate of CFIT accidents, and the fact that most GA aircraft are not equipped with data recording systems.

GA pilots have a unique challenge in that there is often only one pilot to conduct all of the flight and decision making duties. Unlike with a crewed cockpit, GA operations don’t usually have a second pilot to help with avoiding a CFIT accident.

Therefore, it is vital that you as a single pilot, to ensure you are qualified for the intended flight, meet all regulatory requirements, and have the self-discipline to follow industry recommended safety procedures to minimize CFIT.

There are technologies that can help, including onboard alerting equipment. Air traffic control can act as an external warning too. However, external factors like fatigue, distraction, time pressure, procedural non-compliance, and more, can punch holes in your defense.

Realize that errors can happen, and layer redundancy into your operation. Verify your checklists, prepare for the unexpected. Fly rested, remain alert, undistracted, and focused on the operation. Don’t become complacent about safety. Your loved ones will thank you.

More about Loss of Control:

Contributing factors may include:

  • Poor judgment or poor aeronautical decision making
  • Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action
  • Intentional failure to comply with regulations
  • Failure to maintain airspeed
  • Failure to follow procedure
  • Pilot inexperience and proficiency
  • Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol

Did you know?

  • From October 2016 through September 2017, 247 people died in 209 general aviation accidents.
  • Loss of Control was the number one cause of these accidents.
  • Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
  • There is one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.

Learn more:

This FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) Fact Sheet has more information about CFIT.

This FAA Advisory Circular discusses ways in which GA pilots can avoid CFIT.

This NTSB PowerPoint shows how you can overcome “The Problem that Never Went Away.”

This FAA Training Module can help you learn more about the causes of CFIT, and the ways to avoid it.

Time is getting short!! The FAA’s Equip ADS-B website gives you the information you need to equip now.

Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? It’s a good idea to stay on top of them. You can find current FAA regulations on the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations website.

The website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.

The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements. It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.

The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.