Technology is an Important Addition to Aviation Safety; the Pilot is the Primary Instrument

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It is clearly too early to make any conclusions; for the NTSB is merely at the preliminary stages of its investigation of the June 25 deHavilland DHC-3 Otter turboprop crash on a cliff about 25 miles from Ketchikan, killing the 64 year old pilot and eight cruise ship passengers. Clint Johnson, head of the NTSB Alaska office, announced that two instruments linked the seaplane to the FAA’s Capstone system. That technology was designed to provide, through GPS and ADS-B, the pilot with situational awareness information such as concise information about terrain, other aircraft in the area and weather.

The NTSB’s announcement is far from a finding of probable cause; the evidence may show that the problem was mechanical or some other problem which resulted in the crash.

This incident serves as a good reminder of how important the human is in the flying an airplane. The availability of technology, like Capstone, may create an undue sense of confidence to fly into marginal weather, difficult topography, or the like. It is possible that the pilot was not adequately prepared for the terrain, relied too heavily on the deHavilland’s Capstone equipment and was not able to  adequately scan the local terrain. Even in severe loss of control situations, a well-trained and prepared airman might guide the plane’s course to a better impact point.

Technology is an important addition to safety, but it only supplements, not replaces, the basics of flying. The human is still the primary safety system. Each pilot should make a primary goal of her/his career to constantly improve knowledge and skills.


ARTICLE: Feds: Plane in Deadly Alaska Crash Had Safety Technology

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