Pilot Errors - Explained

Human beings are unpredictable as compared to physical evidence, and in the absence of cockpit or flight recorded data , investigators are left with evaluating human behavior from a percentage of likelihood. Most investigators typically lack adequate training to properly evaluate human behavior and performance, because there are such a large and diverse number of reasons that pilots can commit an error. Pilots make errors because they have not been adequately trained to perform tasks, or because they do not have the basic ability to perform the task even if they were trained. They commit errors because the task is beyond normal human abilities. They commit errors because they misinterpret information important to the performance of the task. They commit errors because some event occurring during the performance of the task changes the nature of the task in a way that they have never encountered. They also commit errors because of influences such as stress, distraction, fatigue, illness, visual illusions, spatial disorientation, old age, immaturity, and cultural beliefs. Pilot performance is also influenced or affected by such issues as cockpit design, temperature, altitude, physiology of the body, emotions, interactions, and communications.

DVI’s Pilot Experts are experienced airline, corporate, and general aviation pilots and instructors. Many of our Pilot Experts are Designated Pilot Examiners and Check Airman for major airlines. All of our Pilot Experts, as well as our, Aviation Human Factors Experts understand the nature of errors and how to apply and correlate human performance to determining the cause of an aircraft or ground accident. Some common Human Factors issues related to piloting error can include:

  • Spatial disorientation
  • Not trusting instruments
  • Loss of attitude references
  • “Saving your baby”
  • Extending emergency landing
  • Failure to abort takeoff or landing
  • Turning back to land on runway after engine failure
  • Overconfidence or complacency
  • Over-gross takeoff weight
  • Lack of training
  • Showing off
  • Flying in severe weather
  • Situational awareness
  • CFIT
  • Scud-running
  • Obstructed vision
  • Lack of scanning outside of cockpit
  • Landing into wake/vortex turbulence
  • Depth/distance perception
  • Flaring too high during landing
  • Botched landing approaches at night
  • Training-related mistakes
  • Stalls during takeoff or maneuvering
  • Vmc rolls
  • Cockpit management
  • Fuel exhaustion or starvation
  • Poor crew coordination
  • Improper instrument settings
  • Cabin inadequately secured during takeoff
  • Improperly cross-referencing instruments
  • Too much happening all at once
  • Hypoxia
  • Cabin depressurization
  • Simply flying too high without using oxygen
  • Sleep deprivation or lack of crew rest


An Example of Human Factors in Piloting Error: Empty Field Myopia

Empty field myopia (empty space myopia) is a condition in which the eyes, having nothing specific within the available visual field upon which to focus, focus automatically at a range of the order of a few metres ahead. Detection of objects outside this restricted field of view is delayed and if an object of interest does enter the restricted field of vision, the determination of its size or range would be problematic. The higher risk probability is distributed among general aviation flights conducted outside controlled airspace, or any flights in such airspace and conditions with predominant see and avoid rules and where the ATC assistance to avoid loss of separation (LOS) is limited.

There are several identified conditions when the eyes often tend to turn back to their natural resting state in flight on very dark night with no stimuli outside the cockpit to focus on, in hazy conditions when the optical properties of the atmosphere alter the  appearance of aircraft and terrain, in bright light and glare when the flight is conducted in very sunny conditions over a cloud layer or due flight course set into the direction of the sun, and flying over snow covered and desert surfaces with predominantly featureless ground characteristics and over large bodies of water; the risk factor is especially high for low level inspection flights and military low flying assignments.

Below is a typical example of a closure rate of two general aviation aircraft and typical response times for a pilot to see and react to an object that is on a collision path.