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Controlled Flight Into Terrain – Why?

“Robert Novell’s Third Dimension Blog”

Good Morning—CFIT accidents continue to plague the aviation industry and although the accident rate for 2012/2013 seems to have declined; however, we all must remember that this type of accident has claimed the lives of 30,000 passengers, and crew, since the 1930s.

Reference the latest statistics, which do not have the numbers for 2013, I have the following to share:

Commercial Aviation CFIT Mishaps. CFIT accidents can be further broken down into two broad classes based on the phase of flight: While the approach and landing phase of flight accounts for only 4% of the entire flight time, 50% of all accidents (not just CFIT accidents) occur during this phase of flight. A study that analyzed commercial CFIT accidents between 1988-1994 found that almost 70% of these accidents occurred during the descent, approach, and landing phase, while 20% occurred during the enroute phase. While it is logical to think that the landing phase of flight would account for the majority of commercial CFIT accidents, it also is logical to think that the cause of these accidents is probably dueto significant terrain features such as mountains. This is true in the majority of cases; however, a significant portion (40%) of the commercial CFIT landing-phase accidents involved no significant terrain features. A clear majority (87%) of these accidents occur during Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC), with 20% occurring when the aircraft inadvertently transitions from Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) into Instrument Meteorological Conditions.(IMC).

Now that I have almost put you to sleep with facts, and figures, let’s talk about Complacency and Situational Awareness. How do the words confident and complacent go together? It is my opinion that when an Aviator becomes so familiar with his hometown airport, or airports visited frequently, he/she becomes confident that their talent, and familiarity, with their surroundings have given them an edge that ensures safety. Not so. It is like the multiengine pilot who makes 100 takeoffs and then on number 101 he loses an engine and kills himself because he was not prepared to respond the emergency. Every Aviator who flies multiengine aircraft should always think that this takeoff is the one where I am going to lose an engine – it will save your life. So, don’t confuse the word complacency and confidence. Reference approaches into familiar airports – always fly that approach like it is the first time and don’t let the 101st time be the one that show up in the statistics for the year.

I have a video below which I want you to see and decide if this Aviator was over-confident, complacent, or reckless. Click on the link below, a new window will open, view the three minute video, and then return here to finish the article and view another video which is embedded at the end.


Take some time to think about the difference in the meanings of the words arrogance, confidence, and complacency. There is a time to exhibit confidence, arrogance has no place in aviation, and complacency is always present.

Join me again next week when we will continue our discussion, and find the time to view the American Airlines training video. This video is not specific to AA operations and the information presented by Captain VanderBurgh goes beyond the standard presentation of facts on CFIT and pay particular attention to the last ten minutes – very valuable information for little airplane drivers as well as big airplane drivers.


Robert Novell

January 10, 2014