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by Susan Parson
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

Mythmakers and copywriters love to write about the 'magic' of flight, and many pilots enjoy perpetuating the idea to passengers and friends. After all, flying can truly be a magical experience that fills our hearts, even as it empties our wallets.

There is, however, no mystery or magic involved in safe flight operations. Safe flying is all about harnessing the immense power of solid knowledge, sharp skills, and professional attitudes to assess the hazards and manage the risks associated with manipulating the four forces of flight when you are several hundred (or several thousand) feet above Mother Earth. Knowledge that you left in the book is just as useless in aviation as fuel that you left in the truck. That's why there is so much emphasis right now on finding effective ways to incorporate the right knowledge, skills, and attitudes about risk management and aeronautical decision making into all levels of flight training.

The federal aviation regulations (now known as Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations or 14 CFR) have long required pilots to acquire knowledge by mandating that the pilot in command (PIC) 'become familiar with all available information concerning that flight' (14 CFR '91.103). The specific regulation, CFR '91.103, provides examples of what that information 'must' include list several important preflight actions (e.g., checking the runway lengths at airports of intended use).

As pilots learn in their very first private pilot ground school course, there are many sources for this kind of technical information. However, 'all available information' is a much broader term. There are actually many sources for information and knowledge about all other aspects of the flight, including the vitally important risk management and decision making components of flight planning and flight operations. Some exist only on paper. Many are available online. The FAA developed some. Others were created by industry.

Since it is not possible to benefit from knowledge that you don't even know about, the first challenge for pilots and flight instructors is to find what is available or, in other terms, to know what is 'know-able.' Because valuable knowledge emanates from so many different sources, pilots and flight instructors currently find information in much the same way as we might use a non-directional beacon (NDB): we find a discrete bit of data and track it to its source. We have no really good way of knowing what other pieces of valuable knowledge, information, and experience might be around.

To help pilots and the flight training community navigate more efficiently to the knowledge needed for any given flight operation, the FAA is working to build the knowledge equivalent of a GPS database for general aviation. As currently envisioned, this database, or 'sourcebook,' will list FAA and industry safety goals, objectives, and statistics. It will provide a glossary of GA safety programs and explain how they relate to one another. It will include a list of available safety publications, products and tools. It will describe and explain safety standards and guidelines, including changes to practical Test Standards (PTS), FAA knowledge tests, and other technical standards and guidelines. The sourcebook database will provide a who's who' list of general aviation flight training, mentoring, and safety resources for pilots and flight instructors. Finally, it will provide information on events, such as flight instructor refresher clinics (FIRCs), safety seminars, initial/recurrent standardization clinics for pilot examiners, and other such events.

To ensure the widest possible availability, the annual GA sourcebook will be produced in both paper and electronic forms. Pilots would be able to use the electronic form of the sourcebook in much the same way as they use a GPS today: call up a categorized list of tools and topics, highlight the one you want, and navigate 'direct to' the knowledge you need to plan and carry out a safe flight.

Watch for a Spring 2005 launch of the first edition!

Susan parson is an active general aviation pilot and flight instructor who recently joined the FAA as special assistant in the General Aviation and Commercial Division of the Flight Standards Service.

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