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Home > Flying the Plane > Nervous flyer worried about pilots’ disorientation and accidents
Nervous flyer worried about pilots’ disorientation and accidents
Flying - Flying the Plane
Friday, 17 October 2014 14:07

Spatial disorientation 1

Hi Capt,

Just a quick question about Pilots Spatial Disorientation (SD) and Stall Recovery.

According to the following paper (source) the chance of a pilot experiencing SD during their career is in the order of 90 to 100 percent. And several studies show that SD accounts for some 15 percent to 26 percent of fatal accidents.

The above-mentioned facts plus a few of the more recent accidents with SD being one of the primary factors (Kenya Airways, Adam Air, Air France, Air Algerie where the experienced pilots failed to execute stall recovery procedure) make me very nervous of flying. It just seems to me that the human factor is still one of the main contributors of aviation accidents and incidents.

Could you please give me assurance that I shouldn't be worried about flying?

Deano.

Hi Deano,

The report states that the chance of a pilot experiencing spatial disorientation is about 90 to 100 percent. I believe this is possible only if the pilots are caught in that most undesirable condition.

For example, have you ever been caught by this illusion whilst sitting on a stationary train - when the adjacent train pulls out, you will have the sensation that your ‘stationary’ train is actually moving forward? So you see, it can happen to anyone!

That said, all pilots are aware on the pitfalls of spatial disorientation as such illusion can cause a pilot to make mistakes. They are therefore trained to believe their flight instruments rather than the surrounding illusion.

It is true that some fatal accidents have been caused by spatial disorientation such as the Flash airline Boeing 737 that crashed into the Red Sea shortly after takeoff from the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport. If a pilot is not well trained, such accident can happen but the airline industry is aware of this shortcoming. Admittedly Air France 447 is a case of human error.

Today, learning from mistakes of the past, most airlines have addressed this problem through better and more rigorous training, especially on stall recovery.

Spatial disorientation 2
 

Airbus Stall Recovery Training

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