Anyone who has attended one of my Handling In-flight Emergency programs knows that I profess how safe aviation can be. Despite the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) saying that 70%-75% of aviation accidents are the result of pilot error, I believe this figure to be much, much higher. In fact, if we exclude those rare "acts of God" that cause airplane crashes, I can make the case that a pilot is ultimately responsible for 95%+ of all things "bad" that happen in airplanes. It does, however, take tremendous courage as a culture to admit that a pilot has this degree of responsibility for his or her own safety. But I'm glad it's this way for one very important reason: If a pilot is the direct or indirect cause of over 95% of all aviation accidents, then that same pilot can prevent those accidents. Thus the reason why I believe aviation can be so safe.
Since I've nailed my colors to the mast here, let me further say that if I thought I wasn't able to safely and adequately compensate for those emergency problems that rarely occur in flight, I'd never get in an airplane again. That's a fact. Furthermore, when someone points out how statistically unsafe an airplane is compared to driving a car, there's something that this same person often forgets to tell you: You have very little control of the safety statistic when driving a car. On the other hand, you have nearly complete control of the safety statistic when flying an airplane. That's why I'd rather be in an airplane any day, any time and any place (as long as the weather permits safe flight) as compared to making the same trip by car.
Sure, there are always going to be people who crash airplanes, but not because of something that was beyond their ability to control. That's because humans have frailties, but these are frailties that you can learn to control. For instance, the single greatest predator with which you must deal as a pilot is temptation. If you can't resist the temptation to get to your destination, also known as get home itis, then you're likely to exposed to greater risk. If you can't resist the temptation to impress others in the airplane with you or on the ground, then you're likely to make poor decisions. That's why I wrote my book Plane Talk.
Plane Talk is an owner's manual for the pilot's mind. It contains 100 articles that deal with topics that will help you make better decisions and resist those predators that dispose you to making poor ones. In a sense, it contains practical cockpit resource management information for the small airplane pilot and conveys it in a way that's fun to read. Check out the foreword and table of contents on my book excerpt page and see for yourself.
On the other hand, what about the issue of knowing what to do if you have a rare in-flight emergency? No matter how skillful a pilot you are, you need to have a plan if you come across a problem in flight.
Consider that it generally takes a martial artist a minimum of three years (and I do mean a minimum) and over 1,000 hours of practice to earn a black belt. With that title in hand, the martial artist is now able to respond reflexively to a kick and punch thrown at him or her. There's very little conscious thinking involved when dealing with an attack. Similarly, in an airplane, a pilot needs to have many basic safety reflexes on hand just in case the rare event of an engine failure, gear malfunction occurs, etc. In a sense, the trained reflexes of a pilot become his or her "unconscious" copilot.
So where does a pilot obtain these safety reflexes? If he's lucky, he or she will have a good instructor from which to learn these things. There's also an additional source for this information, too. In my 14 CD Best of Rod Machado live audio CD series, I've included approximately 4 hours of lecture from my Handling In-flight Emergencies seminar.
In this CD series, you'll learn the important skills necessary to handle nearly every in-flight emergency you might (and might is the key word here) encounter. It's so rare to have a problem in flight, but if one does occur, then having the tools and skills given in this tape series could make the difference for you. Furthermore, like the trained black belt, just knowing how to defend yourself in an airplane (or on the ground) gives you tremendous confidence and makes it so much more fun to fly. After all, if you know you can defend yourself, you don't worry about being attacked on the ground or in the air by an in-flight emergency.
On the other hand, if you're an instrument pilot (someone licensed to fly in the clouds) and make it a point to fly in IFR conditions, you need to be able to answer several basic but extremely important questions if you plan on flying safely. For instance, How do you know that a cloud doesn't contain dangerous convective weather? Just as a hint, I can assure you that looking at any single weather chart doesn't even come close to providing you the answer you need. That's why I dedicated my Instrument Pilot's Survival Manual to answering these and many more important questions. In fact, this book was borne out the need to provide a single source of answers to the questions that pilots have asked me during aviation safety seminars that I've conducted across these United States and Europe since the mid-1970s.
For example, one way to determine if a cloud mass has thunderstorm (or severe convective weather) potential is to determine how much water is suspended in that convective cloud mass. Why? Because the amount of water suspended in the convective cloud has a direct relationship to the amount of turbulence associated with that cloud mass.
Take a look at an excerpt from Chapter 21 in the IFR Survival Manual shown below. It's a turbulence probability chart. On the left side is a percentage of the expected turbulence based on the radar reflective value (also known as "dBZs") of water suspended in a cloud. Since ATC Centers now have WARP radar capability (i.e., NEXRAD type info) and since NEXRAD weather is available via the Flight Service Station, you can find out what the radar reflective value of the cloud is in dBZs or in color codes (with a specific caution that I mention in the book) and determine the percentage of expected turbulence for any cloud mass.
With that information in hand you can make better assessments about how the color showing up on a NEXRAD chart (or an airborne radar unit as shown in the diagram below) will affect your airplane. In Chapter 21 of the IFR Survival Manual I even show you how this turbulence applies to the airplane's gust envelope (for both newer and older certified airplanes) and whether or not that turbulence should be considered critical.
If you'd like to make your instrument flying more informed and a lot more enjoyable, please consider taking a look at this manual. You can examine excerpts of the IFR Survival Manual and the other books mentioned above by clicking on this excerpt page link.
Finally, I believe that we have a responsibility to keep from scaring the daylights out of ourselves in an airplane. Why? Because it's unnecessary and because extreme fear has long lasting and very deleterious effects on the psyche. One you're scared it's difficult to overcome that fear, regardless of how logical a person you might be. That's why a superior pilot is one that uses his superior knowledge to avoid those situations that might require the use of his superior skill. Knowing how to handle emergencies, how to avoid temptation and how to assess weather properly are all essential to being a safe pilot. These books can help you. I guarantee it.