Is Flying Really Safe?

Boeing climbing with sunset by Tim Beach

Photo by: Tim Beach

Any person who is fearful of flying will be shocked to hear that Premier Flight Center logged nearly 3,500 flight hours in 2011! The inspiration for this article came about when several people at our flight school were having a discussion about how to advance awareness about how safe flying really is and how to combat the general public’s negative perceptions of flying.

During the discussion, one person remarked that, “We know flying is safe because we at Premier fly a lot, and we do it safely. I mean, clearly we couldn’t fly as much as we do without problems if flying wasn’t a basically safe activity.” Still: How to present that…

Then, I realized we should present just that: The numbers! And when I got them, we were pleasantly surprised by them! We found our airplanes flew 3,491 hours in 2011. What made it so surprising was that, here in the Northeast, most people’s recollection of the year 2011 is best summed up as, “Wow, can you believe all that weather?!?”

What amazed us even more though was the fact that we flew almost 100 hours more than we did in Calendar Year 2010. In Calendar Year 2010, we flew just 3,398 hours. On average, that is nearly 10 flight hours per day, but since we lost more than 100 days per year due to adverse weather conditions, in reality, we fly closer to 14 to 16 hours per day! We know that we are very fortunate to be able to report that we had no accidents, and there were no injuries during either calendar year! In fact, since Premier Flight Center’s inception, we are accident and injury free!

An aerial view of Block Island, Rhode Island by Terry Keller Jr.

Block Island, Rhode Island

You do that much flying? Safely?

Well, it’s not just us who work at Premier doing all this flying, safely. In 2011, it was Premier’s airplanes that logged the 3,491 hours! Admittedly, we didn’t provide quite that much flight instruction in our planes. What that means though is some of the time was logged by student pilots, alone in the airplane fulfilling training requirements. Also, a significant amount of the time was spent by licensed pilots who rent our planes after they get their license. Those pilots logged numerous hours experiencing the joy of sharing their accomplishment with friend and family, and using the license they earned in the ways they dreamed of when they began taking lessons.

Still yes, we provided a lot of flight instruction! In addition to teaching in Premier’s planes, which accounts for slightly more than 2,570 hours of the 3,491 hours in 2011, our instructors flew more than 200 hours with pilots who have purchased and fly their own, personal airplanes. All totaled, that is nearly 2,800 hours of flight training given by our flight instructors through Premier Flight Center in one year!

That’s a lot of flying!

Indeed it is. And during those 2,800 hours of flight instruction we gave, we worked with many pilots. Some were pilots who decided to return to flying after being away for years. Some were pilots who wanted to brush up on their skills or fulfill recurrent training requirements. And, we made a lot of new pilots in 2011!

“Our Graduates” in 2011 include 12 new private pilots, and 16 new student pilots – which is a person who flew alone for the very first time! Altogether, we had 31 people who advanced to a higher certificate level or became a student or private pilot during 2011. And we’re so proud of them because they have demonstrated the skill and desire to operate safely and independently.

N7658U in the skys of Connecticut - By Terry Keller Jr.

So, is flying really safe?

Well – let’s look at it this way:

It’s quite easy for those of us who have been around aviation for years to be dismissive of the concerns people have when their friends or family member comes down to check out our school and sign up for “flying lessons”. But it’s not helpful.

I usually explain that people outside of the flying community typically only hear about airplanes when bad things happen. I try to point out how many airplanes have taken off and landed just during in the time that they’ve been with us looking around. Then, I usually say something insightful like: “Let’s face it, you’re not going to see a news reporter standing in front of a camera shouting: ‘Good God people! I have no idea what’s going on here today, but that’s the 10th safe landing in a row!!! I just don’t know what’s going on here!’”

Are you saying that it’s silly to worry about safety?!?!?

Quite the contrary. And my remark about the media not covering our successes isn’t meant to be as flippant as it sounds either. In fact, safety should be paramount to every pilot in all that we do. That is what we teach, and that is what our graduates demonstrate! It is pilots’ conscientious effort to strive to engage in all flying activities safely that is wrongly overlooked and undervalued!

A cloud photo by Terry Keller Jr.

OK then, there’s no risk?

Well, no. But to be realistic, there is risk in almost all human activities. It’s just that when people are very familiar with an activity, they inherently understand the risks, and they can cope with them reasonably well. Think about how “dangerous” driving a car would seem to someone from a place where they rarely see cars, or altogether don’t use cars. It’s likely they would think it ludicrous to get into some 4-wheeled hunk of metal and hurtle down winding stretches of asphalt at high rates of speed!

Oh wait! I knew it!
You’re going to use that old cliché, are you?

Yes, we’ve all heard it: “The most dangerous part of flying is the drive to the airport.” In truth though, I don’t really believe it’s the case. Instead, I believe that flying isn’t inherently any different or more risky than any other everyday task, at least it’s not if it’s engaged in, and taught, properly. The same is true for most “everyday tasks”.

So, flying is just an “everyday task”?

The basic “perception problem” flying has stems from the fact that most people lack the familiarity with aviation required to understand that it can be conducted in a way that manages and mitigates the risks involved. Our students are taught how to understand, evaluate, and manage the risks associated with flying in a responsible and sensible way.

Sadly, though the facts show that some pilots don’t do “responsible and sensible” quite as well as others. But it’s that same fact that leads us to believe that our success proves that our instructors teach students not just to fly, but also they do an excellent job of teaching students about dealing with the risks competently. We also believe that we attract students who value understanding how to be “responsible and sensible” pilots, and they are open to learning and internalizing these skills.

So, nothing bad will happen if we learn to fly with you, huh?

Hartford, Connecticut from the air by Terry Keller Jr.

Hartford, Connecticut

Well, we certainly hope not, but there are no guarantees in life. Even the safest of drivers can have an accident. Similarly, the safest of pilots could get caught up in unforeseen circumstances that exceed his, or her (or the airplane’s) abilities. But statistically, most of us don’t end up in such “circumstances”.

There are more than 527,000 certificated pilots in the United States from students up through airline transport pilots. Most will live long, enjoyable lives, and relatively few will meet with tragedy in an airplane.

The safe pilot is the one who knows (because he or she is taught) to always be cognizant of and properly manage the “risks” associated with flying. No less so is a good driver taught these same values. The prudent driver operates his or her car at lower speeds when in close proximity to pedestrians or when driving conditions are poor without extensive contemplations and engaging in an arduous decision-making process. Likewise, the prudent pilot is judicious in planning and conducting a flight and doesn’t have to think about “acting safely”. It is in the safe pilot’s nature. They have been taught in such a way that safety is as much a part of their skill set as is the ability to land.

So, is flying safe? Come, let us show you how: “It is!”

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Article by: Terry Keller Jr.
Photos by Terry Keller Jr. unless otherwise noted.