Most Aviation Near Misses Involve Pilots Using Eyes, Not Instruments

Uncontrolled airspace like that over the Hudson River where the mid-air collision between a single-engine Piper and a sight-seeing helicopter accounts for about half the reports of near misses, according to NPR's Robert Benincasa who talked with host Madeleine Brand on All Things Considered.

Robert looked at near-miss data even before Saturday's accident, reviewing about 1,800 reports filed by pilots to the Federal Aviation Administration In the ten years from 1998 to 2008.

Not only did he find that nearly half of the reports came from uncontrolled airspace; he also learned that three-quarters of all the near-misses involved aircraft being operated under visual flight rules.

These flights tend to be of the general aviation variety, smaller, often single-engine aircraft whose pilots frequently are not certified to fly planes when cloud cover is relatively low. That requires a pilot to have an instrument rating. Flying using VFR, pilots must be able to navigate by sight to "see and avoid" hazards, including other aircraft.

Madeleine asked how such an accident could happen on a "nice sunny day."

Robert said:

"It may be difficult because it's a nice, sunny day and there's so much traffic. Pilots tell me it's very difficult to keep track of it all and worry about controlling your aircraft. So, the pilots, relying on their eyes, there also subject to the limitations of their vision."

Meanwhile, there was another sort of near miss. Swimmer Dana Torres told the Associated press she took a helicopter tour with the ill-fated pilot just days before Saturday's accident.

The Associated Press reported:

Swimmer Dara Torres says she took a New York helicopter tour last week with the same pilot who died in a crash with a small plane over the Hudson River.

Torres tells The Associated Press she took her 3-year-old daughter, Tessa, on a tour last Thursday during a stopover in New York after the world swimming championships. The helicopter belonged to Liberty Tours and was flown by 32-year-old Jeremy Clarke.

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