How Pilots Evaluate Risk

By Lane Wallace

Just one more note on the subject of risk (discussed previously here) ...


As mentioned in that previous post, most people underestimate the risks associated with driving, in large part because it's a familiar activity and we feel some measure of control in the process (whether or not that's really true). At the same time, most people overestimate the risks associated with flying on airliners, because it's not a familiar activity, and they don't feel as if they're in control. 

Thought I should add ... ironically, pilots (I'm specifically talking general aviation pilots, here) often have the same trouble accurately estimating the risks associated with flying that most drivers have estimating the risks of driving. And for the very same reasons. We all tend to underestimate the risks of activities that are familiar, and where we feel as if we're in control. And when it comes to flying, the pilots are in control. Or, at least, it feels that way. Especially because the risk of a collision, high on roads, is very low in the air. 

In recognition of this fact, the general aviation industry (general aviation meaning smaller, non-airline aircraft) has begun putting much more emphasis on risk assessment and risk management skills in private pilot training, in recent years. Can risk management training overcome our innate human tendencies? Not entirely. But if we gave the same kind of training to drivers on the road, my guess is that it would at least reduce the number of accidents ... the same goal trainers are trying to achieve in the small airplane world, as well.  


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/05/how-pilots-evaluate-risk/17979/