Use of Distractions

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics reveal that most stall/spin accidents occurred when the pilot’s attention was diverted from the primary task of flying the aircraft. Sixty percent of stall/spin accidents occurred during takeoff and landing, and twenty percent were preceded by engine failure. Preoccupation inside or outside the flight deck while changing aircraft configuration or trim, maneuvering to avoid other traffic, or clearing hazardous obstacles during takeoff and climb could create a potential stall/spin situation. The intentional practice of stalls and spins seldom resulted in an accident. The real danger was inadvertent stalls induced by distractions during routine flight situations.

Pilots at all skill levels should be aware of the increased risk of entering into an inadvertent stall or spin or the possibility of an upset while performing tasks that are secondary to controlling the aircraft. The FAA has established a policy for use of certain distractions on practical tests for pilot certification. The purpose is to determine that applicants possess the skills required to cope with distractions while maintaining the degree of aircraft control required for safe flight. The most effective training is the simulation of scenarios that can lead to inadvertent stalls by creating distractions while the learner is practicing certain maneuvers.

Instructor responsibilities include teaching the learner to divide his or her attention between the distracting task and maintaining control of the aircraft. The following are examples of distractions that can be used for this training:
  • Drop a pencil. Ask the learner to pick it up.
  • Ask the learner to determine a heading to an airport using a chart.
  • Ask the learner to reset the clock.
  • Ask the learner to get something from the back seat.
  • Ask the learner to read the outside air temperature.
  • Ask the learner to compute true airspeed with a flight computer.
  • Ask the learner to identify terrain or objects on the ground.
  • Ask the learner to identify a field suitable for a forced landing.
  • Have the learner climb 200 feet and maintain altitude, then descend 200 feet and maintain altitude.
  • Have the learner reverse course after a series of S-turns.

It is a flight instructor’s responsibility to teach the learner how to take charge during a flight. A pilot in command (PIC) must know when to tell any passengers, even a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), when the PIC finds actions in the aircraft that distract and interfere with the safe conduct of the flight.

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