A note about safety – how performance dipped 40% this summer.

The CAA has distributed a note from the commissioner Poppy Khoza warning about the rate of accidents at the start of 2014.  Twelve accidents in January alone, and 10 in February – 20 people are dead both crew and pax. While I read the page feeling somewhat disturbed,  there was something in the public relations exercise that was pretty clear.  Are the plethora of training institutions operating out of smaller airfields featuring low hour instructors?  Or is the latest crop of pilots  gung ho? Are we now producing pilots who’re useless?

Too busy trying to survive to be Gung Ho. A lesson from history.  WWII female pilots.
Too busy trying to survive to be Gung Ho. A lesson from history. WWII female pilots.

Or something instrinsic to all of our experiences – the weather? We have had by all accounts an extremely  hot and dry summer.  In fact, in parts of the north west of South Africa,  a drought.  That may have all ended with the low pressure system overhead right now,  however for most of this Summer it has been blazing.  And many  of the incidents have occured at altitude.

In some cases,  performance levels of aircraft have been reduced by almost 40%. CDC aviation for example, where I fly the Cirrus,  issued a safety update to all pilots – caution.  Hot and High.

The density altitude was, on some days,  over 8500 feet!  The ground roll doubled as Lanseria is already fairly high at 4400.   The Cirrus 20 is no plane to muck around in when it comes to peformance and retardation. Combine that with a propensity to fly slow and low,  and disaster awaits.  Particularly in tight turns.  Particularly taking off and landing.  And that’s where, as usual,  most of these incidents this year have taken place.

Poppy is also fingering another fact.  The majority of accidents since 2006 feature pilots with fewer than 500 hours. That be me. But hold on.. lets take a closer look at a few more bits of data.  The CAA says its now going to concentrate on categories of pilot responsible for most accidents.  Many would say there’s overwhelming evidence to say the category of pilot who breaks the rules would be at the top of the list.

Really, really hot and extremely high.  Time for the turbo.
The Atacama. Really, really hot and well, extremely high. Time for the turbo.

Are you aware of the temperature and the reduced pressure and density altitude?  Do you know what that’s going to do to your aircraft?  Particularly in a turn?  What’s the new stall speed? The CAA says its going to look at some sort of induction programme for trainee pilots.  Well, sounds good.  But who’s going to induct? There aren’t enough CAA officials to inspect runways, let alone go through the thousands of would-be trainee pilots.   Who gets to induct the inductees?  Is there an FAA process?  Apparently yes. But back to our accident rate.

Thanks to the US Coast Guard for this pic of the CAPS system for Cirrus working.
Thanks to the US Coast Guard for this pic of the CAPS system for Cirrus working.  It may have been hot, but it wasn’t high.

Still, the fact remains – in early 2014 aviators took themselves out at the greatest rate in a decade.  No escape from that cruel reality. Are pilots becoming glorified pen-pushers who are forced to spend more of their cash paying for books and the ever-more-expensive exams than actually flying an aeroplane? Take the real cost of flying since 2009.  While income levels have largely languished, the cost of av gas has climbed from under R8.00 to R18.47 per litre.  That’s more than 200%.  Which means for pilots who aren’t part of SAA’s glorified BEE scheme arnd receive the taxpayers subsidy or don’t have mommy and daddy’s millions, its tough to put in the bare minimum which should be around two hours a week. And when the temperature rises above 32 and you’re now taking off from the African version of the Alps – beware.