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Fri, Apr 18, 2003

Kings Enter New Arena, AVEMCO Opens the Door

Newest King Schools Course Will Help Lower Insurance Costs

Martha and John King have built a legend, preparing aviators for the written ("knowledge") tests, and their success is well-documented. They were approached by AVEMCO Insurance last year, to try something different: structuring a course that would teach, not how to pass a test with known questions and known answers, but a test of less-defined dimensions, and ultimately much-higher impact.

ANN sat with the Kings and with Jim Lauerman, AVEMCO's Chief Underwriting Officer, and we learned how this breakthrough came about, and what the Kings learned, building this very different product.

Regardless of what we've been told, and what we tell our passengers, flying isn't 'safe.' The myth that, "The most-dangerous part of your flight is the trip to the airport" is false, as far as GA flying statistics are concerned. If there is any good news, it is that the vast majority of GA accidents fall into just a few areas, and pilot awareness of those areas, both before and during flight, can drastically reduce accidents, save lives, reduce aircraft damage... and save your insurance money. [See details on AVEMCO's real-money incentive tie-in, below --ed.]

John King started things off: "If you want to be 'safe,' stay in bed." Martha added, "In any powered vehicle, you have more risk -- you're dealing, after all, with a powered vehicle."

The myth has deep roots, and they started with an effort to calm the flying (paying-passenger) public. John said, "From the days of the barnstormers, we've been saying, 'It's perfectly safe.' The numbers say otherwise. The idea is, if you refuse to admit risks, you won't manage them." If you're like most pilots, it's even worse: "The way we [in GA] have been practicing 'risk management' is flawed. "Pilots may scare themselves and think they've learned something; but in fact, maybe they've just been lucky." They learn by trial and error: "If they get scared, they may say, 'I'm not going to do THAT again.' Through such experiences, you get a longer list of things you won't do while flying."

Learning by doing is haphazard, dangerous, and expensive.

Mr. King doesn't think 'experience' should be the only way to learn risk management. "Experience gives you the test first," he said, implying that it might be beneficial to have studied first. "Experience keeps adding to your personal 'list.' CFIs have longer lists, built from their own, and their students' experiences." Here's a likely way a pilot of today learns risk management:

  • You do something in the air, or something happens that you should have avoided, and you get scared. You add that to your 'personal list of things not to do again.'
  • Your CFI relates his personalized sayings. You add the wisdom to your list of things you won't do.
  • You think about flying, and make up more rules -- more things you'll never do.

"The problem with this," John summed up, "is that doesn't help you anticipate situations in which you don't have a 'rule.' We [aviation educators of all types] need a system, a procedure for identifying and assessing and managing risks. That's what this is all about: a systematic way of identifying, assessing, and managing risks." It's not easy, either. "Risks are sneaky and insidious."

Martha took over. "We got a lot of stories from doing our weekend ground schools. We got to know specialized stories; but a lot of people who [could have told the best stories] made mistakes, and couldn't be there -- they were dead." No story is 'typical,' but this one is illustrative: "John had a student, disruptive, didn't follow the rules of the class... John asked the FAA inspector [who was administering the tests at the end of the class] to 'talk to him.' He didn't; John didn't... Not long afterward, he got into the clouds, and managed to get to the first airport on his trip; but he just 'had to go' on; he killed himself on the return trip."

Kings Go to School

The Kings don't just make this stuff up -- they do real, academic research. This course, they could see, would cover new ground. "We went to an aviation psychology symposium at Ohio State," John said. "They had knowledge we hadn't seen before. I realized that perhaps our [macho, independent] culture works against [learning] risk management. We have to change our culture. The symposium called for a change in that culture and presented a systematic approach to risk management -- it struck a chord."

A couple years ago, in an exclusive ANN interview, John and Martha talked about their growing awareness of the hazards of being 'in denial' about the risks inherent in GA flying. The seeds had been planted...

AVEMCO Makes it Happen.

"Then Jim Lauerman [AVEMCO Chief Underwriting Officer] called us, and said we could make a difference. They put the new course into the Safety Rewards Program."

Mr. Lauerman himself was at the table, and noted, "The majority of losses are from people who just don't see what they're getting into."

Martha explained, "With risk management -- the benefit is real, but the risk is indefinite -- it's hard to get the idea..."

John added a revealing truth: "Experts make as many mistakes as novices, but they fix them sooner."

Martha pointed out, "Their experience lets them correct mistakes, before they become problems."

It's not that way, where the aircraft itself is concerned.

John noted, "We take the airplane in for annual, thinking it's a 'perfect' airplane. The A&P conducts surveillance, identifies problems, and corrects them. We just don't have a culture for pilots, like we do for the airframes. Almost all accidents are caused by a failure in risk management, yet our training focuses almost exclusively on flying skills."

Martha noted, "The skills have to be there; you simply have to know how to land in a crosswind." Skills, though, won't have to stretched to the limits, if the pilot thinks ahead, and manages risks...

The 'Big Lie'

John explained aviation's 'big lie:' "The reality is," he said, "you're about seven times likelier to get killed in a GA accident than in a car -- that's close to the motorcycle [fatality] rate. First, we need to admit the risks."

"Flying is all about change," he continued. "All those things get planned, but they depend on variables. As the flight progresses, the pilot gets fatigued, he may get complacent; the aircraft gets lower on fuel. The longer you fly [on any given flight], the smaller becomes your 'circle of alternatives' -- you have fewer alternate landing sites; you're more tired; the weather changes. Plus, you have increasing 'external pressures.' That's important, for us goal-oriented pilots."

Martha and 'Lindy III'

Mrs. King picked up: "Those external pressures increase enormously -- think of how many pilots have run out of fuel, 30 miles from the destination, on a 600-mile trip." She used some insight from Eric Lindbergh's trip to Paris last year: "On the Lindbergh flight planning, we were looking at the fuel/weight/forecast icing vs climb rate, and we discussed leaving some fuel behind, to increase climb [through the icing altitudes]. I said to Eric, 'Once you cross the coast of France, there is NO WAY you won't try for Paris." Eric agreed, realizing the tremendous, building pressure to make the goal. "He took the fuel," Martha noted.

CARE for Yourself

This being a King course, you knew it wouldn't be long before we ran into a mnemonic -- an orderly way to remember disparate, but related topics. The one we'll cover is C.A.R.E., which stands for

  • Consequences [How bad is the situation, and how bad could it get?]
  • Alternatives ["You always need them, but as the flight progresses, you have to work harder to make sure you still have some."]
  • Reality ["When something changes, recognize it; don't deny it. Deal with things as they are -- not as they are, on your plan."]
  • External pressures ["As you approach your destination, your incentives to get there go up."]

You'll need the course to get all the benefit, but consider: we need to consider the consequences of sticking to our original plan, as alternatives fall behind us and reality (weather, fuel, maybe the oil pressure) changes; and we need to be aware that our own decision-making process actually changes, the closer we get to our goal, because of those external pressures. ("What? You landed thirty miles from here? Now we've got to come get you -- you're making us drive in this bloody, blinding blizzard? You bum!")

AVEMCO's Commitment: Money Talks. Real Money.

Martha explained that all this talk is important, but the industry "...needed a 'driver.' Pilots will go out and learn on their own, but AVEMCO came up with a great 'driver.'"

AVEMCO's Jim Lauerman added, "Pilots don't mind researching and learning, if they're going to buy another gadget, or something... but this is different." AVEMCO is offering actual credits to pilots for this course. Not only is AVEMCO allowing a 5% premium credit for completion; there's another program, for those who have completed the King course, which allows another 5% for certain additional training, after the prerequisites are met.

John King put it in perspective: "AVEMCO's commitment to this is huge -- their commitment to lowering accident rates is enormous... Some insurance companies give discounts for what are really non-related items; AVEMCO put its money where its mouth is."

Ken Kaplan, King's marketing maven, who keeps track of everything, noted, "I expected a reaction from new pilots; but experienced pilots -- airline, Air Force pilots -- tell us, 'thank you,' and how personally applicable the course is."

So, who writes the 'right' and 'wrong' answers?

This course isn't about learning the FAA's 'right' answers; it's about weighing inputs against experience, looking at the situation and the alternatives, and picking the 'best' from what may be several 'plausible' actions. Martha gave an insight into one of the course's most-difficult hurdles (particularly appreciated by all the educators in the audience): "It's not easy to write scenarios that are ambiguous enough..."

It's not just about us aviators, either.

Martha brought up another point, a point which meets with 'denial' in a lot of pilots: the general, non-aviating public has a different perspective on us, since September 11. "We need to be acceptable to the general public, particularly these days -- an accident is all some of them need to get on their high horse."


The Kings' experience and exposure to so many of us clearly helped put this course together, and they offered a complehensive tip: think; don't guess.

Think about how, as an instructor, you can introduce some of the non-standard into your students' routine. For instance, on a student cross-country, have the student show he can follow his plan; then change the destination, and make him think about how to plot the alternatives. [As soon as he gets his head into the chart, you can pull the throttle, too; that's always good for a learning experience --ed.]

Although the course is brand new, the Kings are happy with an early testimonial: "You've made this sharply focused; not fuzzy." That kind of message nevertheless must give the Kings those 'warm fuzzies...'

FMI: Practical Risk Management For Pilots: $49


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