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I am a student pilot who needs to help comfort my spouse as to the
safety of GA flying. She is very afraid of me flying and her fear
creates obstacles in my training. I have searched the NSTB and AOPA
websites for information but come up short. Is there another
resource I can refer to which will inform me of statistics or other
general information that I can use to persuade and convince my
skeptical better half? Thank you for your help. JJ

-- John H. Jones, January 10, 2004


Trainer-class airplanes, such as the Cessna 172, get involved in fatal crashes at a rate of about 0.6 per 100,000 hours. Definitely more dangerous than staying home and watching 500 channels of digital cable TV but safer than the average of 1.2-1.6 fatal accidents per 100,000 for general aviation as a whole. Flight training per se is even safer than flying around by yourself in a trainer (a lot of people, for example, take 172s up to Alaska). By contrast, if you were to start flying single-pilot IFR at night in a high-performance twin she should perhaps start looking for a backup husband... (e.g., the fatal crash rate on the fast Aerostar twin was calculated at 4.4 per 100,000 hours by Aviation Consumer magazine, though the same article noted that you could fly a Beech Baron twin with a risk of only 1.4).

I wrote about this a bit in, which has hyperlinks to some studies (the FAA seems to have broken their link to their most important study, sadly).

-- Philip Greenspun, January 12, 2004

The Short Answer is flying is as safe as you want to make it...

Nothing in life is without risk. Nada. Flying small airplanes is as safe as you want to make it. The number one cause of fatal accidents is VFR pilots continuing flight into IFR conditions (bad weather) and crashing. The number 2 cause of serious/fatal accidents is fuel mismanagement, which means running out of gas, or running a fuel tank dry and not switching to another fuel tank that still has gas. So what that means is that if you know how to read and understand weather reports (or talk to and believe a weather briefer), and always check your fuel before takeoff, and set a good reserve (1 hr), the chances are overwhelming that you will lead an uneventful career as a pilot.

Also, whenever you make aviation-related decisions, lean toward the conservative side. Do you want to fly a single engine plane over a large body of water, or over mountainous terrain at night? Sure you can do it, but its a low percentage operation if the engine quits.

The idea here is to accept the fact that there are risks involved, but to practice risk management. Risk management means flying at an altitude high enough that you can reasonably expect to find a suitable landing area if the engine fails, and also practicing forced landing procedures so the skills stay sharp. The good news about flying small airplanes is that things rarely seriously break. The bad news is that since this is so rare, that when it does occur, the skills are rusty, and the pilots forget their training.

I drove motorcycles for several years but gave it up because no matter how safely I drove, there was some motorist always trying to kill me by cutting me off, or turning in front of me. That's when I took up something safer, flying.

As I said, life is not without risk. How many folks working in the World Trade Center on 9/10/2001 do you think thought their world was more or less secure.

Accident statistics are useful for some things, but the basic rates don't differentiate between "Acts of God" mechanical causes (10%) and all other causes including stupidity.

All the Best,

Joe Oliva

Airline Transport Pilot

FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor

former FAA Aviation Safety Counselor

-- Joe Oliva, January 13, 2004

Believe me, I hear you.

Many people have irrational fear of flying of any sort. Their fear is typically increased when the aircraft is: - Smaller. - Propeller powered (either piston or turboprop). - Single engine. - Flown by an amateur pilot, in a cockpit that is not physically separated from the passengers.

When my wife saw the picture of me standing by the Diamond Katana following my solo, she was alarmed to see that I'm taller than the plane, as I'm not that tall to begin with.

I had to deal with my wife fears lately, especially after I experienced a mid-air problem during my training. Statistics didn't help. Rational explanations didn't work.

Here's my suggestion: Once you get your license, take your spouse to a short flight to do something she likes. Shopping, museum, a good restaurant, whatever. Keep the bank minimal. Don't show off. Don't practice stalls, slow flight, or anything similar - just fly as smoothly as you can, get her to her favorite activity, and get her back home safely. Who knows, she might like it. If she shows positive signs, consider taking her to a "Training for Pilot Companions" seminar. There's one next month in Nashua, NH.

Good luck. Let me know if it works - I might try it ;-)


-- Tal Reichert, March 19, 2004

I did just what Tal recommended, took my wife for a nice short flight, took her up in the pattern then flew her over our house. This was less than a month after I got my private lic. Two month later we own a Piper Arrow and we fly all over the place! Just make sure the weather is perfect!

-- gordon woodard, September 29, 2004

Initially, my wife was nervous as well. First time I took her to the airport to fly in my Grumman Tiger I went through an exhausive pre-flight, having her read off all the checklist items. Then, went through the process of showing her how to adjust the right seat so she could reach the rudders and brakes. Seatbelts on, engine start, taxi in a circle, shutdown. With a smile I insisted that was good for the first time out.

Next time out I took her about 10 miles away from the field to a practice area I had used extensively, then flew back.

Last trip, got to the practice area on a beautiful sunny day. Could see the coastline near Marshfield, MA. Asked if she was OK. Yes. Asked if she would like to see the water from the air. Yes. Got to the coast, and asked if she would like to go on to Provincetown (visible from there.) Yes. Flew another 20 minutes across to the cape, landed and returned.

Oh, when showing her how to adjust her seat I explained to her later that the time for seat adjustment was preflight, was not after I was slumped over from a heart attack, food poisoning, etc. If she needed to fly, she could reach the controls. The time to anticipate problems is before flight. She got the message. She is a regular hand now with preflight, and as I verbalize my actions in the pattern, is hearing all the speeds, flaps, and RPM numbers every time we land. Still not interested in a right seat course, but someday perhaps.

She never has a problem now as long as the winds are light. We're going on a flying holiday at the end of the month.


-- Peter Langlois, March 11, 2005

Having road motorcycles since 5 years old and then raced them, I've not lived this long being foolish on them. I was a very good rider before starting racing but I still had to practice every morning and evening to be good enough to fly them and land safely (motocross racing). Safety is my primary concern and much research and thought has been put into flight safety before getting my own pilots license. Today amateur-built aircraft are mainstream and outsell Cessna, Piper, Beach and other turnkey aircraft 5 to 1 and have a near equal safety record (-1%) compared to them. Canada says their safety is on par with certified aircraft.

If the word experimental is synonymous with airplane accident to you, it may just be due to the fact the majority of new small personal aircraft flown these days are FAA branded such. So you hear of an aircraft accident, chances are 5 to 1, yep, sure enough, it was an 'experimental aircraft'. Indeed, statistics show flying personal aircraft same risk as motorcycles. That indicates one is at no more risk in the air flying small aircraft than on a motorcycle. If motorcycles were flown with a trained pilot/rider above cars where they can't be struck by them they may prove safer in the air. Small aircraft accident research proves what would achieve the greatest GA safety is stall/spin proof aircraft as it is the #1 cause of accidents and not flying any small aircraft in bad weather as it is the #2 cause.

What the Wright Brothers did to make powered flight possible was "studied with great interest" and realize the technologies were in reach yet no one had enough experience flying to make it safe, even if they had adequate aircraft and flight controls, which they didnメt at that time. Wright's studied the success of Otto Lilienthal's gliding flights before his stall/spin death and calculated he had only a total of 5 or so hours of actual flight experience. Therefore, the Wright's set out to get as many hours of pilot training in tethered gliders (flying the machine as a kite) with good flight control authority before attempting powered flight. Pilot training, experience and proficiency is the best safety since the first flight as it is today.

-- Flight Researcher, May 28, 2009

When I first met my wife she had never been in a light plane, so I took her for a ride in an Aztec from BNE to SYD along the coast. From that day forward she never wanted to fly commercial if she could go in a light twin. We had many wonderful hours flying our Mooney or the firm's Aztec. The critical thing is do not give the appearance of nervousness, or be unsure of your actions. Always fly safely and remember there are old pilots and bold pilots, but NO old bold pilots.

-- Victor (Jim) Sweeney, April 6, 2011