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The ATSB's aviation safety survey of commercial pilots, Common Flying Errors, has revealed that, violations of standard operating procedures were more prevalent in general aviation and were involved in 11.8% of all events.

The survey asked pilots to identify the main factors contributing to errors and the defences they used to recover. Most errors occurred en route, distantly followed by flight preparation errors.

All categories of pilot experienced errors while executing procedures en route, such as not completing their landing checklist, and misprocessing information from their operational environment, such as an unexpected decline in weather conditions. Most identified errors involving mishandling as a concern, such as heavy landing; misconfiguration, such as landing with the flap setting one less than configured for; and misprocessing navigational information, such as an incorrect GPS identifier.

The contributing factor identified by all categories of pilot as enhancing the likelihood of error was lack of pilot experience. Failing to complete procedures, such as not cross-checking figures, and experiencing problems with systems equipment, such as frequency congestion, also exacerbated errors in most categories.

Operational personnel across all flight categories indicated that there was frequently no defence present to protect against the error. When a defence was available, pilot skills and implementing procedures predominantly enhanced error recovery. Very few pilot responses indicated that a defence had been employed after the event to reduce the potential of recurrence.


  • violation of standard operating procedures was involved in 11.8% of events;
  • wilfully risky activities were present in 3.2% of error events;
  • in 2.1% of reported events an accident occurred;
  • 9.1% of respondents were involved in a concern relating to a mid-air collision, most of which involved no warning (unalerted confliction 6.1%).

Some caution is required when interpreting results because considerable amounts of data were missing. The survey conveys the opinion of pilots and not the opinion of the ATSB. Results do not suggest that aviation is more at risk of error than other transport activities.

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Last update 01 April 2011