The lessons from tragic accidents following flight into cloud or poor visibility are often ignored or forgotten, according to the ATSB. Some pilots who are only qualified to fly when visibility is good (visual flight) remain exposed to significant risk of a fatal accident.

To fly in cloudy or foggy conditions, pilots need an instrument flight rules rating. A booklet released by the ATSB today highlights the dangers of pilots without an instrument rating flying into bad weather.

With 14 fatalities in the past five years, general aviation accidents involving visual flights entering cloud remain a significant concern in aviation safety.

ATSB General Manager Strategic Capability, Mr Julian Walsh, said these accidents were all the more tragic because they were avoidable.

'We want to encourage pilots, no matter what their experience level, to develop the knowledge and skills to avoid unintentionally flying into bad weather.'

'Weather does not always act as the forecast predicts. If the weather starts to deteriorate, unqualified pilots should make an early decision to turn back or divert before they are caught in cloud,' Mr Walsh said.

'Before they take-off pilots need to carefully plan their flights and get up-to-date weather forecasts. If there's any doubt, don't fly.'

The report, the latest in the ATSB's 'Avoidable Accidents' series, presents case studies on the dangers of flying visual flight rules in deteriorating weather. It focuses on the key safety lessons learnt from each of these cases.

The booklet describes strategies for pilots to avoid the dangers of flying into adverse weather conditions, including:

  • pre-flight planning
  • considering alternate plans in case of an unexpected change in the weather
  • making timely decisions to turn back or divert
  • using a 'personal minimums' checklist to help control and manage flight risks, including marginal weather conditions.

Accidents involving Visual Flight Rules pilots in Instrument Meteorological Conditions

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Last update 22 July 2011