Why Aviation Community Matters
It was scary. We were more than a mile from the short runway, skimming the treetops in a Chinese-made Socata Trinidad look-alike. We were so low we couldn’t even see the runway. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on. This was the pilot’s idea of how to make a short field approach. His technique was to get down low and drag it in.
A pilot’s first inclination on a short-field approach is often to drag it in like this. But the recommended method of making a steeper, stabilized approach to a short field helps dissipate speed in the flare and actually results in a shorter landing. Plus, it has many other advantages. But it is counterintuitive.
So why didn’t this pilot know better? Well, the pilot was at a disadvantage. There is a complete lack of an aviation community around this remote private airport on Hainan Island in China.
In China, except at the airlines, pilots and instructors are scarce. So there’s no general aviation community — there is no “aviation village” to pass along and reinforce good technique. In such a vacuum, there is a tendency for pilots to “go feral” and invent their own unusual and interesting techniques.
The same thing can happen in the United States when a pilot learns to fly in a remote area. Back when John and I were teaching ground schools in Alaska, we would often have pilots come in from the bush to take our classes. Frequently, the only instruction they had received previously was a few takeoffs and landings at the remote strip from the non instructor who sold them the airplane.
Eventually they would decide to fly into Fairbanks or Anchorage — and that would get them into trouble. Consequently, they would be required to take our classes as part of an accelerated program to get safe and legal. In the process, they would not only learn from the classes, but also gain a lot from swapping stories with other pilots. They began to realize how much they didn’t know.
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