Filling the Gaps

Efficient in quickly developing pilots, traditional aviation training nonetheless leaves significant knowledge gaps that contribute to the vast majority of aircraft accidents. It’s up to pilots to seek out knowledge to fill those gaps…here are three ways to increase your knowledge and safety.

As an aviation safety researcher (see I think about those things that can make a real difference in safety and pilot/airplane longevity—topics that are almost universally overlooked in pilot training, but which can make a real difference in your responsibility to yourself and especially your passengers. Most pilot training pays little to no attention to developing three skills—risk management, engine management, and weather interpretation—that are vital to safe flight. Here are three ways you can begin to fill the gaps in your training.

1. King School’s Practical Risk Management for Pilots DVD. Historically more than 70% of all aircraft mishaps result from “pilot error”—more correctly, improper pilot decision-making. Yet almost no time is spent in traditional flight and ground instruction to teach this critical safety-of-flight skill. Prompted by the insurance industry, John and Martha King created this, their first in a series of interactive DVDs on managing risk and making better decisions before and during flight. At least one insurance company provides a 5% premium discount to pilots who have completed Practical Risk Management—almost always more than covering the $49 cost of the DVD. Order a copy for your pilot friend (or yourself) at

2. Advanced Pilot Seminars’ engine management course. Another huge gap in pilot training that can have a significant safety impact both in the short- and long-term is engine management. Over a third of all reported aircraft accidents involve the aircraft’s engine. Even the relatively low horsepower engines in most training airplanes need proper management for longevity, and for maximum performance at high density altitudes and/or heavy aircraft weights when their low power becomes most obvious. Larger engines, especially above the 180-horsepower point, are more susceptible to long-term damage if managed incorrectly. Proper pilot technique enhances safety regardless of engine size. And rising costs of fuel and engine repair make it even more attractive for pilots to know precisely how to get the most out of their engines, while protecting them from harm.

Advanced Pilot Seminars ( of Ada, Oklahoma, offers a superb weekend class on engine management unlike any other. Oriented toward pilots of 200- to 350-horsepower and turbocharged engines, the information is equally important to the pilot wanting to fly an O-360 to TBO, or get maximum power out of a Cherokee flying out of a mountain airstrip. More importantly, you’ll develop engineer-like knowledge to help you make intelligent decisions about engine management, and learn how to use engine monitors to vastly improve safety (and reduce maintenance costs) by troubleshooting and identifying anomalies while en route. The Seminar is not cheap—tuition is $995.00, and you have to get to southeastern Oklahoma and stay for a weekend—but the information is vital if you want to glean maximum performance out of your engine while treating it right for longevity.

3. On-line weather courses. Weather contributes to as much as 40% of all aircraft accidents. As a result the NTSB recently recommended to the FAA that it stress weather education much more strongly one written tests, on checkrides and in flight reviews. Here are some free on-line programs to make you a “weather-wiser” pilot:

For a broad overview of weather interpretation, take the AOPA Air Safety Foundation “Weather Wise” on-line course.

AOPA’s SkySpotter® course teaches you how to file and interpret pilot reports—in many cases the only weather information between surface reporting points, and from above the bases of the lowest cloud layer.

Prepare for winter with NASA’s on-line Pilot’s Guide to Ground and In-Flight Icing courses.

None of these options are all-inclusive—but each will give you a very firm foundation on which to build with additional books, videos and DVDs, and seminars.

BOTTOM LINE: What “gets” many pilots (and their passengers) are those things not taught in flight training. It’s your responsibility to seek out training to fill the gaps in your knowledge.