30 May 2017

Safe flying app gets lift off

8:54 am on 30 May 2017

A new Civil Aviation Authority app aims to test pilots' knowledge of the plane before take-off and avoid simple errors when flying, such as running out of fuel.

Pilots learn about the new safety app at the Nelson Aero Club

Pilots learn about the new safety app at the Nelson Aero Club. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Civil Aviation Authority's safety promotion team said that all too often disasters were caused by simple errors, and the new software was designed to help.

The app is being launched at safety seminars around the country, and about 50 pilots and aviators turned out at the Nelson Aero Club last night for the safety seminar that draws on real-life stories from pilots who have suffered the misfortune of an accident.

One was Dennis Horne, who in January 2014 was flying from Ardmore Airfield to Whangarei when the engine on his microlight spluttered and stopped. He put the aircraft into a glide, aimed for the coast, and landed safely after avoiding people building sandcastles on a beach.

As if that wasn't frightening enough, taking off from the beach was even worse. The microlight was almost airborne when it veered into the sea and crashed.

The authority used his story as an example of how things can turn bad when fuel problems strike. It said about 40 percent of light aircraft accidents were linked to engine troubles, including running out of fuel.

The authority's aviation examiner Marc Brogan said it was also an example of the rules that allow microlight owners to do their own maintenance. He said the accident happened after a string of events but ultimately the fuel was not being properly monitored.

A safety promotion spokesperson Rose Wood said the app, called Know Your Aircraft, was like a detailed checklist.

"You might have thought you knew your aircraft but as you work through the series of questions in this app, you will find out that possibly there are some gaps in your knowledge."

Ms Wood said the app - which can be downloaded onto an iPad or tablet - also had a function that allowed a pilot to create a diagram of a fuel system, email it and print it out to keep with them.

Those at last night's seminar heard that the simplest piece of technology on a plane - a fuel dipstick - was also one of the most vital, and no two were ever the same. Safety adviser Carlton Campbell said that goes for all aircraft types, and pilots could use the app when switching to a new plane to educate themselves about its differences.

"Under pressure you sometimes might not make the best decisions if your depth of knowledge is not there. This is ensuring [pilots] do have it."

A flight instructor at the Nelson Aviation College, James Stewart, said fuel calculations and planning were a critical part of pilot training. He said it should be hard to run out of fuel, but it did happen.

"If you're under pressure, you're stressed or there's something outside of work it can affect you - yeah, you can run out of fuel which isn't great, especially when you're flying."

A pilot instructor with the Nelson Microlight Club knows that sinking feeling first-hand. In 2013 Ken Millward and a student were at a club day at Lake Station in the Nelson Lakes National Park when the engine failed on their microlight aircraft as it was climbing out of a low level pass.

Mr Millward turned the plane back to the airstrip, but noticed another light plane had taken off, having failed to hear his mayday call. There was nowhere to go but down; the impact destroyed the undercarriage.

Mr Millward said the app was timely.

"All the young people now that we train are very literate with any form of electronics or electronic media, so it's the way it's going and it's good that CAA is leading the charge."

But Nelson Aero Club life member Kevin Allport was not so sure - he thought people were becoming too reliant on gadgetry. He has been flying for 50 years and has never run out of fuel, nor come close to it.

"I think it's getting too confusing - glass cockpits - too much information. People are looking at [screens] all the time and not looking where they're going."

Mr Allport said it all came down to how you train people: "Don't be in a hurry, treat it as fun and fly safe."

The Civil Aviation Authority's app is free and can be downloaded from its website.

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