Flying a Light Sport Airplane – Is It Safe?

Airplane light-sport aircraft safety is a very interesting topic. Lets first look at new aircraft safety and then at the pilot safety.

Modern Airplane Light Sport Aircraft (LSA)

Most modern airplane LSA are built to strict airworthiness standards. If maintained and pre-flighted properly as every pilot is trained, there is very little chance of a mechanical malfunction. In fact, very few accidents occur because of mechanical failure. It must be noted that some home-builts, experimentals and/or the old ultralights are not as airworthy and should be looked at by qualified personnel before flying.

Most airplane LSA are safer than regular airplanes because there is a ballistic parachute system installed. This greatly increases the safety above and beyond regular airplanes. If there is a serious mechanical failure or weather-related situation, or the pilot simply becomes incapacitated, the emergency parachute can be deployed, and the aircraft and occupants float safely down to earth.

Other reasons sport pilots flying LSA are safer than regular airplanes are because most are flying for fun rather than under pressure to “get somewhere”. Sport pilots simply say, “I am not going to fly today because of …(some good reason)…”. This is a safety attitude which is acceptable and admired by pilots and passengers. This is a new safety age for flying.

What is safe?

Let’s look at safety in general. Let’s start with some things we do every day.

  • Is driving safe?
  • Is riding a bicycle safe?
  • Is skiing safe?
  • Is riding a horse safe?
  • Is boating safe?
  • Is riding a motorcycle safe?

Based on the number of people who die every year at the above activities, it would be “safe” to say that none of the above is safe, but we do them anyway and accept the risk. Why are they unsafe and people get hurt? Mainly because of a driver/operator decision and/or other uncontrolled events such as other people causing the accident. Luckily, for aviation, there is much less chance of others causing an accident with all the room in the sky.

The situation is also true for Sport Pilots flying LSA. Most accidents are from “pilot error”. Why? Pilots get into situations where they make bad decisions, most of what can be avoided.

The FAA has put out some information on hazardous attitudes and antidotes to fix most situations when hazardous attitudes arise. As corny as they may seem, they’re pretty effective if used. They are:

Anti-Authority: “Don’t tell me.”

This attitude is found in people who do not like anyone telling them what to do. In a sense, they are saying, “No one can tell me what to do.” They may be resentful of having someone tell them what to do or may regard rules, regulations, and procedures as silly or unnecessary. However, it is always your prerogative to question authority if you feel it is in error.

ANTIDOTE – Follow the rules. They are usually right.

Impulsivity: “Do it quickly.”

This is the attitude of people who frequently feel the need to do something, anything, immediately. They do not stop to think about what they are about to do; they do not select the best alternative, and they do the first thing that comes to mind.

ANTIDOTE – Not so fast. Think first.

Invulnerability: “It won’t happen to me.”

Many people falsely believe that accidents happen to others, but never to them. They know accidents can happen, and they know that anyone can be affected. However, they never really feel or believe that they will be personally involved. Pilots who think this way are more likely to take chances and increase risk.

ANTIDOTE – It could happen to me.</p

Macho: “I can do it.”

Pilots who are always trying to prove that they are better than anyone else think, “I can do it—I’ll show them.” Pilots with this type of attitude will try to prove themselves by taking risks in order to impress others. While this pattern is thought to be a male characteristic, women are equally susceptible.

ANTIDOTE – Taking chances is foolish.

Resignation: “What’s the use?”

Pilots who think, “What’s the use?” do not see themselves as being able to make a great deal of difference in what happens to them. When things go well, the pilot is apt to think that it is good luck. When things go badly, the pilot may feel that someone is out to get me, or attribute it to bad luck.

The pilot will leave the action to others, for better or worse. Sometimes, such pilots will even go along with unreasonable requests just to be a “nice guy.”

ANTIDOTE – I’m not helpless. I can make a difference.

These attitudes and antidotes have been derived from most pilot-error accidents and are the basis for realizing there is a problem and fixing it before it becomes a bigger problem.

Overall, modern aircraft are strong and reliable; accidents can easily be avoided with proper training and a good attitude.