Many flying schools have an authorisation policy that requires an instructor to authorise any flight made on a school aircraft. For some instructors this just means putting a signature in a box but for a thinking responsible instructor it should mean much more.
First of all there are the obvious licence, medical checks, 90 day recency check and school recency requirement (each pilot should also be authorised on their personal performance during previous training or check flights) Most of these checks can be completed by a competent member of the operations staff, it doesn’t have to be a flying instructor.
Secondly and to my way of thinking more importantly, an instructor should also look carefully at the route and destination chosen by the pilot. Incidents and accidents show that low hour pilots are often caught out by weather, high ground, crosswinds, short fields and regulated airspace. In my opinion many serious accidents may have been avoided if instructors had spent a little more time checking ‘what and where’ and offering suitable advice.
The prevention of unauthorised penetration of controlled airspace is another area where instructor involvement can help. There is no excuse for authorising low hour pilots to fly close to or below controlled airspace without being fully briefed beforehand especially when that airspace is local. There have certainly been many incidents with our local airspace at Birmingham that could have been avoided if authorising instructors had shown some basic duty of care and common sense.
So many sloppy schools and clubs seem to forget the importance supervising qualified pilots as well as students. Qualified low hour pilots or pilots with lack of recency are just as capable of taking a nosewheel off as a student pilot and its generally the qualified pilots that will penetrate controlled airspace without clearance. Both of these types of incidents are the hallmark of training organisations with poor discipline and standards.
The accident below highlights another area of authorisation often overlooked by instructors
Cessna 152, G-BZWH at Perth Airport, Scotland on 10 July 2014
During the go-around from a bounced landing, the aircraft stalled at low height and dropped a wing which hit the ground. The aircraft cartwheeled through 360° before coming to rest.
Download AIIB report:
Cessna 152 G-BZWH 12-14.pdf (151.63 kb)
The background and outcome to this accident is a rather unusual although the primary cause was the failure of the student pilot to take efficient and decisive go around action after a bounced landing.
The student had flown dual from Aberdeen to Perth for circuit practice.
We can see by the number of dual hours (over 50) that this student had already accrued that there may well have been a persistent long term problem with learning the landing and go around technique. The other contributory factor seems to be the students stated reluctance to make a second solo flight (2nd of the day) at Perth. The instructor seems to have encouraged the student to fly when the student felt uncomfortable about his previous performance.
It is a very old established instructional practice that each student solo circuit detail be supported beforehand by a dual check or instructional flight known as consolodation. (Not mentioned by the AIIB) In this particular case the instructor had a golden opportunity to schedule a dual session after the student reported his reluctance to fly a further solo detail but the instructor instead chose to encourage him to fly when the student felt uncomfortable doing so. It would appear that the students feeling of apprehension contributed to the mishandling of the aircraft that brought about the accident, a potentially very serious accident from which he was very lucky to escape without injury.
This accident should emphasise to instructors the need to not only ensure that the student possess the adequate technical skill to fly the authorised detail but is also psychologically ready. For those that do not readily understand what Human Performance and Limitations really means, this stress related accident highlights how important its understanding can be. In fact the monitoring of a students psychological state is just as important as the technical skills although this seems to be overlooked by many instructors.
This monitoring is particularly important where a student has had problems with achieving a first solo. The number of hours that this particular student had accrued before completing a first solo flight should have been cause for concern, although we are not told by the AAIB over what period the majority of the students flying took place which is an important consideration in trying to understand the background to this accident.
My experience in instructional flying is that a first solo can be a lot easier to authorise than a second solo because a first solo is just one planned circuit and landing and the student is not normally expecting it until the instructor briefs the student accordingly just before the event. Second and subsequent solos involve multiple circuits and more student expectation and can produce many different human factor challenges for the student, ranging from inappropriate over confidence to inappropriate under confidence which can also change markedly during a multiple solo circuit session. There is always the added chance with multiple circuits of changes to the wind, visibility, cloud base, traffic density or even a runway change.
While some students may feel positive and confident about finally achieving the first solo, for some it may be the exact opposite and this can exacerbate once the student becomes airborne. Instructors need to try to be very intuitive in this area. In fact part of the task of the flying instructor is to understand the students character and personality and this is one of the reasons that students should not have a multitude of instructors trying to teach them. A good instructor will be sensitive to the students mood and insecurities and should base any decision to authorise solo flight on that particular student on that particular day. If a student doesn’t feel comfortable about flying solo it’s simple, don’t send them!
In all of my solo briefs, including cross countries, I explain that if at anytime the student feels very uncomfortable about what is happening – RETURN or STOP! (Yes, even on a cross country, if you feel really uncomfortable return to the base airfield, or even just taxy back to dispersal and stop) Flying, by its very nature, can produce a very stressful situation and if you become very stressed you are much safer on the ground than in the air (IMSAFE)!