Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about how to avoid loss of control (LOC) accidents.

A 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.

LOC is the number one root cause of fatalities in GA accidents. More than 25 percent of GA fatalities occur during the maneuvering phase of flight. Of those accidents, half involve stall/spin scenarios.

Stay safe! This series will show you how you can incorporate safety into every flight.

Plenty of Sources

You may think you have more than enough weather information, but having that information available is just part of your decision-making equation.

You need to know how to acquire, interpret and make operational decisions based on that information.

Study and Evaluate

Getting weather information is only the first step. It’s important that you study and evaluate the information to understand what it means.

The knowledge tests for most pilot certificates include questions on weather theory and use of weather products in aviation. However, it takes continuous study and experience to develop your skill in evaluating and applying weather data to a specific flight.

You might find it helpful to approach the task of practical, real world weather analysis with several basic concepts in mind.

The three basic elements of weather are:

  • Temperature (warm or cold)
  • Wind (a vector with speed and direction)
  • Moisture (or humidity)

Temperature, wind, and moisture combine to varying degrees to create conditions that affect pilots.

The range of possible combinations is nearly infinite, but weather primarily affects pilots in three ways:

  • visibility
  • turbulence
  • effects on aircraft performance

How Will the Weather Affect You?  

One approach to practical weather analysis is to review weather data in terms of how current and forecast conditions will affect visibility, turbulence, and aircraft performance for your specific flight.

Suppose you want to make a flight from Cincinnati Municipal Airport (KLUK) to Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, Ohio (KCMH). You want to depart KLUK around 1830Z and fly VFR at 5,500 MSL. Your estimated time enroute is approximately one hour.

  • Your first step is to look at your weather data in terms of the ways in which weather can affect your flight: turbulence, visibility, and aircraft performance. Organize the information into a format that works for you, and then make the decision. Make an honest evaluation of whether your skill and/or aircraft capability are up to the challenge posed by this particular set of weather conditions.

It is very important to consider whether the combined “pilot-aircraft team” is sufficient.

  • For example, you may be a very experienced, proficient, and current pilot, but your weather flying ability is still limited if you are flying an older aircraft with no weather avoidance technology.
  • On the other hand, you may have a new aircraft with all the bells and whistles, but if you don’t have much weather flying experience, the aircraft can’t compensate for your own lack of experience.
  • You must also ensure that you are fully proficient in the use of onboard equipment, and that it is functioning properly.
  • One way to “self-check” your decision (regardless of your experience) is to ask yourself if the flight has any chance of appearing in the next day’s newspaper. If the result of the evaluation process leaves you in any doubt, then you need to develop safe alternatives.

Think of the preflight weather plan as a strategic, “big picture” exercise. The goal is to ensure that you have identified all the weather-related hazards for this particular flight, and planned for ways to eliminate or mitigate each one.

  • Escape Options: Know where you can find good weather within your aircraft’s range and endurance capability. Where is it? Which direction do you turn to get there? How long will it take to get there?
  • When the weather is instrument meteorological conditions (ceiling 1,000 feet or less and visibility 3 nm or less), identify an acceptable alternative airport for each 25-30 nm segment of your route.
  • Reserve Fuel: Knowing where to find visual flight rules weather does you no good unless you have enough fuel to reach it. Flight planning for only a legal fuel reserve could significantly limit your options if the weather deteriorates.
  • More fuel means access to more alternatives. Having plenty of fuel also spares you the worry (and distraction) of fearing fuel exhaustion when weather has already increased your cockpit workload.
  • Terrain Avoidance: Know how low you can go without encountering terrain and/or obstacles. Consider a terrain avoidance plan for any flight.

Finally, fly regularly with a certified flight instructor who will challenge you to review what you know, explore new horizons, and to always do your best. 

Be sure to document your achievement in the WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program ( It’s a great way to stay on top of your game and satisfy your flight review requirements.

More about Loss of Control

Contributing factors may include:

  • Poor judgment or 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 2017 through September 2018, 382 people died in 226 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:

Check out this Pilot’s Guide for Aviation Weather from the National Weather Service.

This FAA Safety Guide will give you what you need to know about weather briefings and decision-making.

AOPA has a number of helpful weather resources, which you can find here.

What’s coming for the future? Learn about the benefits NextGen is bringing here.

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 this 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.