Pilots are confronted with an inflow of information (radio communications, spotting other traffic, flight and engine instruments, etc.) at all times during a flight. We can only do so much with this information and must decide which bit of information or which potential conflict should we attack first, second, and third.
Pilots must learn to quickly and accurately identify and address the most important problem. Once that problem is solved or mitigated we move on down the priority list. The following accident report, unfortunately, is the story of a pilot who did not prioritize.
NTSB number LAX91FA020
The aircraft (a Grumman AA-1B) was loaded over its gross weight with a center of gravity outside the rear envelope limit. The pilot in command and a media reporter proceeded to the site of an auto accident. Evidence supports the fact that the reporter, who was currently receiving dual instruction and held an expired student pilot certificate, was flying the aircraft. The aircraft violated many company minimum altitude limits by descending to about 800 feet above the ground and initiated a series of steep turns at slow airspeed. Statements from other pilots established that the reporter liked to cross control the aircraft in order to have a better view of the ground. Ground witnesses observed the aircraft perform an abrupt maneuver then spin to the ground.
Probable Cause: The inadvertent stall/spin. Factors in the accident were: The pilot’s decision to allow the reporter-passenger to fly the aircraft in a critical flight situation, his decision to allow the aircraft to descend to an altitude too low to allow for contingencies, and the failure of the pilot in command to ensure that the aircraft was properly loaded.
The pilot was highly motivate to “get the story” of the auto accident. So highly motivated that he did not keep his priorities straight. The most important item should have been not to create an even greater media event by having an airplane crash at the scene of a car crash. The first priority should have been to do a thorough pre-flight and assess the loading of the aircraft. Then, to fly the airplane at a safe altitude and execute safe maneuvers.
THE BOTTOM LINE: As you fly — even before you fly — ask yourself what is the most important item that you can address right now. Line up the workload tasks in order of importance and work through the list based on priority. The mere fact that you are thinking about priorities will improve and maintain your awareness and keep you ahead of the airplane.