Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

April 2003

Aviation Safety Corner

GREETINGS! For this month's topic, I would like to conclude our discussion on, "Cocktails & Cockpit." Flying while intoxicated doesn't happen often, but when it does the results are usually tragic. A single DWI may point to trouble ahead in airplanes. This is Part IV of IV.

Let's begin our discussion with, "Unconvincing Results." The researcher concluded the FAA's reporting requirements and sanctions against pilots with DWI convictions was ineffective. The number of airline pilots with DWIs increased between 1986 and 1997, going from 0.97 percent of the airline pilot population to 1.62 percent, while the number of drivers arrested for DWI during the same period dropped nearly 20 percent. The percentage of pilots with more than one DWI also increased, going from 0.08 percent to 0.13 percent.

Despite this, the fact is that airlines have an enviable record with respect to alcohol-related accidents when compared to transportation industries such as rail, bus and trucking. While medical certificate screening may be part of the answer, it may also ride on the fact that there are two or more flight crew members on each flight, and they act as checks on each other's judgment and skills.

This is where the difference between the airline pilots in McFadden's study and general aviation pilots becomes apparent.

Flying is a complex task, far more complex than driving, and is susceptible to alcohol-induced errors to a far greater degree.

The first cognitive function lost to the effect of alcohol is judgment, which disappears long before the hand/eye coordination goes down the tubes. But General Aviation Pilots typically don't have the backup of sophisticated flight management systems and another highly experienced pilot watching from across the throttle quadrant.

Drinking and flying can be an egregious affair. Getting into an airplane after a few drinks, even if you've flown the same airplane 1,000 hours in the last five years, is a far cry from getting into your car and driving home from a party. The car is stupid, the airplane insane. Same goes for trying to fly "the morning after."

There may not be any cops patrolling in the air, and there may not be much other traffic to dodge or curbs to avoid, but you'll still have to deal with the dynamics of moving air and stationary ground which can make bed-spins feel like a picnic.

Besides, make a rough landing and you may spill your strawberry daiquiri. And how will you get that stain out of your Hawaiian shirt?

Now, In Conclusion, Remember, While General Aviation has not compiled such a spotless record, pilots do a much better job than drivers at avoiding bent metal. Let's make sure we're not one of these Pilots.

Don't miss next month's Aviation Safety Corner, when we'll discuss, "Cross Your Fingers." Crosswinds plague even experienced pilots. The secrets to success: Consistent patterns, proper procedure, and a modicum of skill. This will be Part I of IV.

Larry G. Harmon
FAA Aviation Safety Counselor