Airline Pilots Make These Deadly Mistakes Way More Often Than You Realize

Flying an airplane is no easy task. Shockingly, nearly 80% of plane crashes are the result of pilot error. Although plane crashes are rare, they can happen, especially if the pilot is careless before, during, or after takeoff.

Here are the deadliest mistakes airline pilots can make. One error could cost passengers their lives (page 9).

1. Failing the ‘I-M-S-A-F-E’ test

airplane is flying in the red sky

Airline pilots need to work to make sure they’re in shape to fly. | Den-belitsky/iStock/Getty Images

This acronym stands for illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, and (lack of) eating. Too few pilots take this test seriously. Yet it could mean life or death if a pilot is not suited to fly the plane.

A recent study showed functioning without sleep for 24 hours is equivalent to having a 0.1% blood-alcohol content, far above the legal 0.08%.

Next: This can lead to a deadly plane crash.

2. Not checking flight controls before takeoff

Captain Yann Lardet, General Manager of AATC Airbus

The plane must be thoroughly checked before takeoff. | Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

Every pilot needs to do a thorough check of the plane before takeoff. This includes checking all flight controls. It’s important pilots check that all controls are in the right place — either switched on or off, whichever is necessary.

In the case of this Gulfstream IV aircraft, the pilots made the error of not completing an adequate flight controls check prior to takeoff, resulting in the deaths of all six on board.

Next: This factor may push your pilot too far.

3. Feeling pressured into flying

Confident male pilot in uniform keeping arms crossed and smiling with airplane in the background

Not every pilot is thrilled about flying everyday. | G-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Pilots are aware they are responsible for getting their passengers to and from their destinations safely. However, in some cases, passengers — or even the aircraft companies — pressure the pilot into flying, even if conditions are not safe.

It costs money to delay a plane, and sometimes large companies want airline pilots to keep flying their planes even when they know they have technical errors.

Next: Not having enough of this is extremely dangerous. 

4. Forgetting to refuel

Toncontin International Airport

You don’t want to run out of fuel midair. | Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Not having enough fuel is a problem a pilot can’t come back from once the plane is in the air. (Unless he or she makes an emergency landing).

On the other hand, if a plane has too much fuel, it might not be able to make a safe landing. In this case, planes have to dump fuel or else risk tragedy upon trying to land.

Next: This moment of the flight isn’t as safe as it seems.

5. Not paying attention while taxiing

Boeing Dreamliner plane

Runway accidents can cripple an airport. | James Morgan/Boeing Australia via Getty Images

This is more common with smaller aircrafts but can also happen with larger passenger jets. The planes are instructed to take off from specific runways depending on weather, air traffic, and other factors.

If the pilot doesn’t pay attention and ends up on the wrong runway, an accident could happen. Or at the very least, in the case of a Delta Airlines flight, an exchange of bad attitudes could take place.

Next: Pilots should never ignore this. 

6. Ignoring the weather

Passenger air plane approaching turbulent thunder storm lightning

Ignoring weather conditions can be deadly. | Anterovium/iStock/Getty Images

The weather is a huge deciding factor of whether it’s okay to fly a plane. Foggy conditions reduce visibility, and wind affects which runways planes can take off and land from.

In more serious conditions, the wind can be too unsafe for pilots to fly. However, some pilots of smaller aircrafts choose to fly in unsafe conditions anyway. It’s usually the result of impatient passengers. But flying in unsafe weather conditions can lead to a deadly outcome.

Next: Airline pilots need instruments for a reason. 

7. Visually approaching the airport

Airplane landing in night

A visual approach can be a danferous way to land. | David McNew/Getty Images

Aircrafts come equipped with instruments that tell them exactly how to land the plane. However, on clear days, planes can receive clearance for a visual approach, rather than relying solely on the instruments. But if the pilot lacks experience with the airport, it can be deadly.

When Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed in San Francisco in 2013 and killed three people, the pilot later said he was extremely stressed about making a visual approach landing.

Next: This recently lead to a deadly crash. 

8. Poor communication

Saudia Boeing 777-300 airplane

Airline pilots and air traffic control need to be in constant contact. |

Confusion between pilots, or between pilots and air traffic controllers, can lead to a crash. In March 2018, a flight bound for Nepal crashed and killed 49 people aboard when the pilots got confused about which runway they were supposed to land on.

Plus, there was a miscommunication with the airport’s control tower just before the landing, when the controller asked the pilot which runway he would land on.

Next: Disregarding these important numbers is a deadly mistake.

9. Disregarding weight and balance

Propeller plane flying

Planes, especially propeller planes, need to be extra careful about weight. | Alexskiba/iStock/Getty Images

Weight and balance are both extremely important for proper control during takeoff and landing. The plane needs to maintain its center of gravity in order to fly properly. If the plane holds too much weight, it won’t be able to properly take off or land and could cause the plane to come down mid-flight.

R&B star Aliyah died in a plane crash in 2001 after the pilot decided to take off even though he knew the plane was overloaded.

Next: Where the plane flies matters, too. 

10. Flying at an unsafe altitude

Airplane flying over the city at riverside

A lot can go wrong at low altitudes. | Chinnasorn Pangcharoe/iStock/Getty Images

Pilots must fly at a certain altitude for a few reasons: To avoid anything below (such as mountains), to avoid weather, and to avoid other planes in the sky. So if a pilot does not obey air traffic control and instead flies at a higher or lower altitude, it could create serious trouble for the aircraft.

Pilots also have to know the size of their aircraft and what it can handle. For example, if a small plane travels too high, it might not have enough pressure in the cabin to keep passengers safe.

Next: Things will end badly if pilots don’t have enough of this.

11. Not gaining enough takeoff speed

Malaysia Airlines Berhad airplane

Planes that aren’t going fast enough on takeoff can be disasterous. | Cn0ra/iStock/Getty Images

Aircrafts require a certain speed to take off properly. It is determined by the plane’s weight and temperature, plus the altitude of the runway, among other things. If a plane doesn’t reach its necessary takeoff speed before attempting takeoff, there won’t be enough lift, and the plane won’t take off properly. This can lead to tragedy.

Next: Sometimes, doing tricks in the sky doesn’t end well. 

12. Showing off

airplane flies over a sea

Showing off in the air can have deadly results. | Mike_Kiev/iStock/Getty Images

This is typical of smaller aircrafts. Sometimes, pilots get a bit too carried away with how much they love to fly, and accidents happen.

Usually, the crashes result in a combination of flying too low and too slow for the plane to be able to remain stable. Sometimes, air shows result in tragedy if the pilot makes an error while doing a trick to impress the crowd.

Next: Innovations can sometimes affect pilots’ understanding. 

13. Not understanding the technology

Pilot inside a cockpit

Your need to be an expert to handle this technology. | Rodolpho Reis/iStock/Getty Images

With aircrafts and their technology constantly improving, it’s imperative that pilots learn the new technology as it comes out. However, pilots have come under scrutiny for not learning the technology on their planes thoroughly enough. As a result, pilot errors can occur that can mean life or death for the passengers.

When a problem occurs with the technology, pilots need to thoroughly understand it before they can solve it, which loses precious time in the process.

Next: Failing to do this can cause problems during takeoff or mid-flight. 

14. Inadequate pre-flight inspection

Airplane at Seattle Tacoma aiport

The crew must inspect the plane inside and out. | David_Johnson/iStock/Getty Images

Before departing, the plane must be checked for any mechanical errors, any visual problems, and more. A walk-around needs to occur to check the plane’s exterior features such as the antennae and rudder. The fuel levels must also be checked, as well as the flaps on the plane to ensure it can fly properly.

Failure to check any of these things can mean taking off in an airplane that might be low on fuel or unable to complete the flight.

Next: Pilots should never skip this, but some do. 

15. Skipping pre-flight planning

Pilots Sitting in the Cockpit

Every single flight needs to have a plan — no exceptions. | Digital Vision/iStock/Getty Images

Pre-flight inspection and pre-flight planning are different, but both are extremely important. Pre-flight planning encompasses many other pilot errors, such as not checking the weather, disregarding weight and balance, etc.

The planning is the overarching name for most of these smaller responsibilities — but all of them play a big role in the airplane’s successful trip. Failing to acknowledge pre-flight planning could mean a slew of problems during the flight.


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