'They don’t happen very often': Flight instructor talks small plane safety following three crashes

Small Plane at Sparta Municipal Airport
Posted at 6:21 PM, Aug 04, 2022

SPARTA, Mich. — Three small plane crashes have happened in the last month in West Michigan.

The first was in Oceana County killing both passengers on board, another was in Montcalm County with one survivor and then the most recent happened in South Haven Township killing two.

With those crashes, people are questioning the safety of small aircrafts, but one flight instructor out of Sparta said it is rare to have so many in a condensed geographical area like this.

A "pre-flight" checklist is one of the most important tools for a pilot who is planning to fly. It ensures they won't miss any steps that are necessary to stay safe while in the air.

"First thing we want to promote is safety. We as pilots like to follow checklists. Every time we are in the airplane, you grab the checklist," said West Michigan Flight Academy Flight Instructor Tim Allen.

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to obtain your private pilot's license.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires at least 40 hours of flight time.

"The national average right now is about 65 hours for somebody to get their certificate. It depends how quickly you do it. If you can do it within three months versus six or nine months, that will help decrease the amount of hours you need to spend in the airplane," said Allen.

There is also a learning component, taking a written test covering what you learn on the ground and in the air.

In addition, some pilots use a flight simulator to practice things that can't be practiced in the air, like an engine fire.

Other pilots simulate the airplane by setting up a scenario where they go through the actions of responding to emergency situations.

"They don’t happen very often. Mechanical problems are fortunately rare in the aircraft, so we practice these things. Fortunately, I have never had to use any of that training to this point," said Allen.

Allen said most accidents are actually human error where problems start off small and then they get away from the pilot.

"The really busy times are take off and landing, and in between there, if we are cruising out somewhere, we will be paying attention to where we are, trying to talk to anybody who we might need to talk to if there is another airplane in the area, and just monitoring and managing what is going on," said Allen.

He said like any isolated activity though, it is important to check in with the people around you.

"Like hiking or any other outdoor activity where you’re going to be out of communication for a while, you want to have your family or somebody knowing what your plans are so that they can check in with you if you’re past your arrival time," said Allen.

For pilots who are seeking to fly commercially, 250 hours are required to get a license, while airline transport pilots are required 1,500 hours.