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4 Answers

Intermediate pilots more dangerous? Can someone cite an authority?

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General Aviation

When I was training for my Private Pilot's License, I remember someone giving me the conventional wisdom that intermediate-level pilots are more dangerous, for a while, than either novice pilots or experienced pilots.  This danger zone was identified as 100 to 250 hours of pilot time, though I don't remember if it was PIC time or total time.

The idea is that novice pilots are aware they don't know anything, and so are less likely to make rash choices that put themselves in risky situations. And experienced pilots actually do know something, and so are more likly to make wise choices, and to survive risky situations they do encounter. But intermediate pilots have a stage where they think they know something, but really don't; thus they make rash choices, and find themselves in risky situations which they aren't proficient in surviving.  This was portrayed as a gross generalisation, and of course individual pilots will not fit this profile. 

I liked this notion as a cautionary tale, because I'm right now in that intermediate zone (90 hrs PIC, 240 hrs total time), and I want to make wise decisions and sail safely into experienced pilot status. I fly GA for fun, so I care more about the recreational case than the commercial case. I fly in Canada and the northwestern USA.

But I've not been able to find any published authority on the web which cites this conventional wisdom, much less provides evidence that intermediate pilots are in fact more dangerous. Nor can I find empirical guidance on whether the intermediate danger zone typically lasts until 250 hours or 500 hours or 1000 hours, or whether its measured in total time or PIC time. I must be using the wrong search terms.

Can anyone point me to authorities which can either prove or disprove the notion that intermediate pilots are in general more dangerous than novice or experienced pilots. and can provide evidence on the boundaries of the dangerous intermdiate phase in terms of PIC or total time hours?

Thanks in advance!

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4 Answers

  1. Koehn on May 31, 2011

    Check out The Killing Zone: How & Why Pilots Die by Paul Craig. He goes through the accident history for the most fatal accidents (continued VFR into IMC, manuevering, CFIT, etc) and graphs the pilot’s TT vs number of accidents. Enlightening (and chilling) stuff.

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  2. Earl Kessler on May 31, 2011

    Take a look a the Joseph Nall Report, which you can get from AOPAs Air Safety Foundation.  It is a great source of statistics related to accidents and their causes on an annual basis.

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  3. Pat Flannigan on Jun 01, 2011

    Craig’s book has all the data as well as the Nall report. But keep in mind that these statistics are more deterministic than probabilistic. Around the 250 hour mark, a lot of pilots begin to feel too comfortable in the airplane. They skip checklists and tend to get a little ballsy with their personal minimums. Sooner or later, it catches up to them and they are either scared straight or wind up as an NTSB report.
    So long as you remain disciplined and responsible with your flying, you aren’t any more likely to have an accident now than before. In fact, your experience should have the opposite effect.
    Do as you were trained and practice to stay proficient!

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  4. Chris Carlson on Jan 28, 2013

    Northwest pilot as well, much like you are. 265 hours, and just filled out my first NASA report. Just like Pat said, I got scared into safety just a few weeks ago. It really does happen.

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