Air travel a gamble, but a fairly safe one

Safety first

Posted: Friday, March 10, 2000

Do you like to gamble? A little trip to Las Vegas maybe? Or for those of us who have money to spare, Monte Carlo? Some of you who read my column might think that gambling is something to avoid for one reason or another. A waste of time. A waste of money.

We all gamble in our life in one way or another. We place bets on whether it will rain or not. In Juneau it is a sure bet that it will, sooner or later. When our cat gets out and is lost for sure, a family member will bet that the cat shows up at dinner time. Sure enough at the sound of the electric can opener the wayward feline appears at the door.

Our whole life is riddled with bets, spoken out loud or not, that things will go our way. But what if things don't go the way we would like? Are we prepared to continue gambling, and bet the bank or do we take our losses and go home? What does this have to do with flying, you ask? Everything.

Each time we go for a flight, whether it is flying a private airplane ourselves or taking an air carrier, we mentally place a bet that we will arrive at our destination none the less for wear. As bets go that is a pretty safe bet. I don't know of many pilots that intentionally go out on a flight for the specific reason of committing suicide. There is, of course, an exception to every rule.

There was a pilot in Los Angeles who, due to unrequited love, plunged his Cessna 152 through the roof of his girlfriend's apartment. Fortunately his (ex)girlfriend was out on a date and was not home at the time. Bummer.

When we fly by air carrier we bet on the fact that the airplanes are airworthy, the pilots trained and qualified, the weather will allow us to arrive at our destination and that the car we rented over the phone is somewhat larger than a roller skate. The first three are a pretty safe bet. The last, well you've rented cars before haven't you? Use your imagination.

Air carriers, whether they fly large jet airplanes or smaller prop driven aircraft, must hold to a higher standard than pilots who fly their own airplane for personal use. Air carriers must follow strict guidelines of maintenance on their aircraft and training for pilots and crew which follow manual guidelines approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

This is not to say that private aircraft do not have to be maintained properly or that the pilots have no rules to follow. All aircraft must be inspected at least annually and pilots must have Biennial Flight Reviews (BFRs) and follow minimum criteria that is outlined in the Federal Aviation Regulations(FARs).

If the regulations are followed the chances are greater for success. As a matter of fact, it is safer to fly than to walk across a street or drive your car. If you are a betting person, you could put money on a safe trip by air and win. Just don't bet on that rental car being what you asked for. You will probably lose.

Patricia Mattison is the safety program manager for the Juneau Flight Standards district office of the Federal Aviation Administration.



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