Pilot error (sometimes called cockpit error) occurs when the pilot is considered to be principally or partially responsible for an aircraft accident. Pilot error can be a mistake, oversight, lapse in judgement, or failure to exercise due diligence by pilots during the performance of their duties.
Usually in an accident caused by pilot error, the pilot in command (captain) is seen as making an error unintentionally. However, an intentional disregard for a standard operating procedure (or warning) is still considered pilot error, even if the pilot's actions justified criminal charges.
An aircraft operator (airline or aircraft owner) is generally not held accountable for an incident that is principally due to a mechanical failure of the aircraft unless the mechanical failure occurred as a result of pilot error.
The pilot may be declared to be in error even during adverse weather conditions if the investigating body deems that the pilot did not exercise due diligence. The responsibility for the accident in such a case would depend upon whether the pilot could reasonably know of the danger and whether he or she took reasonable steps to avoid the weather problem. Flying into a hurricane (for other than legitimate research purposes) would be considered pilot error; flying into a microburst would not be considered pilot error if it was not detectable by the pilot, or in the time before this hazard was understood. Some weather phenomena (such as clear-air turbulence or mountain waves) are difficult to avoid, especially if the aircraft involved is the first aircraft to encounter the phenomenon in a certain area at a certain time.
One of the most famous incidents of an aircraft disaster attributed to pilot error was the night time crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 near Miami, Florida on December 29, 1972. The pilot, co-pilot, and Flight Engineer had become fixated on a faulty landing gear light and had failed to realize that the autopilot buttons had been bumped by one of the crew altering the settings from level flight to a slow descent. Told by ATC to hold over a sparsely populated area away from the airport (with, as a result, very few lights on the ground visible to act as an external reference) while they dealt with the problem, the distracted flight crew did not notice the plane losing height and the aircraft eventually struck the ground in the Everglades, killing 101 out of 176 passengers and crew.
The subsequent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the incident blamed the flight crew for failing to monitor the aircraft's instruments properly. Details of the incident are now frequently used as a case study in training exercises by aircrews and air traffic controllers.
Placing pilot error as a cause of an aviation accident is often controversial. For example, the NTSB ruled that the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 was due to the failure of the rudder which was caused by "unnecessary and excessive rudder pedal inputs" on the part of the co-pilot who was operating the aircraft at the time. Attorneys for the co-pilot, who was killed in the crash, argue that American Airlines' pilots had never been properly trained concerning extreme rudder inputs. The attorneys also claimed that the rudder failure was actually caused by a flaw in the design of the Airbus A300 aircraft and that the co-pilot's rudder inputs should not have caused the catastrophic rudder failure that led to the accident that killed 265 people.
During 2004 in the United States, pilot error was listed as the primary cause of 78.6% of fatal general aviation accidents, and as the primary cause of 75.5% of general aviation accidents overall. For scheduled air transport, pilot error typically accounts for just over half of worldwide accidents with a known cause.
Read more about Pilot Error: Notable Examples
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Famous quotes containing the words error and/or pilot:
“You can hardly convince a man of an error in a life-time, but must content yourself with the reflection that the progress of science is slow. If he is not convinced, his grandchildren may be. The geologists tell us that it took one hundred years to prove that fossils are organic, and one hundred and fifty more to prove that they are not to be referred to the Noachian deluge.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
“In the true mythology, Love is an immortal child, and Beauty leads him as a guide: nor can we express a deeper sense than when we say, Beauty is the pilot of the young soul.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)