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Are GA flights with multiple pilots more dangerous than single-pilot flights?

Following on from the Mooney crash in Spain thread here, which apparently had two PPLs and an FI on board, yet ploughed on into disaster, I wonder if in a GA context multiple pilots on board aren’t more dangerous than a single pilot.

I’ve thought about that often, as I’ve noticed myself when flying with another pilot the decision-making process frequently becomes muddled. There seems to be a sublte, unspoken transfer of authority (this can go back and forth) and is more pronounced the steeper the ‘cockpit gradient’ is, i.e. the bigger the experience difference (which may be real or perceived) between the pilots.

What are others’ thoughts? Remedies?

I think it’s a very relevant point.
My angle is that with two capable pilots aboard each pilot may be at risk of feeling more comfortable and confident that they can work as a team and overcome bigger issues.
However a poor decision is a poor decision and my require more than they collectively have available to resolve it. (Airframe limitations, weather limitations, general resolutions of in-flight issues.)

United Kingdom

Properly briefed, a second pilot is a very valuable asset even in a small GA plane without formal CRM-procedures. The second set of eyes, the ability to assign tasks without having to explain them and also the chance to discuss decisions before and during the flight can make a difference in many situations.

However I fully agree that decisionmaking can degrade quickly to a mutual, unspoken assumption “well, he doesn’t object, so it must be OK”. The cockpit gradient is not so much the issue, because most inexperienced pilots will openly defer to the more experienced ones, and most of the latter will also assume responsibility if needed.
I think the critical cases are asymmetric backgrounds, like a pilot with many hours TT and little experience on the type of airplane or in the specific operation flying with e.g. an inexperieced airplane owner of a capable airplane tackling some weather.

- Nothing will be assumed, concerns and suggestions are encouraged to be voiced openly
- Critical decisions are made together
- If opinions differ, the more conservative approach will be used (no matter who is PIC)

Would be interesting to see if accident statistics support my assumption that a second pilot really reduces risk.

Friedrichshafen EDNY

It depends on the pilots. In an emergency two may be safer. Also a pilot-rated passenger can warn if you are going beyond his personal risk limit. And an extra pair of eyes to draw your attention to relevant things, such as other aircraft, or fluctuations in oil pressure.

EGPE, United Kingdom

Good point. I only fly with pilots I have known a while unless receiving instruction or test

We tend to defer to people with more experience / qualifications / training – for a reason – they are usually better. However, as with any rule, this is not always the case. With maturity, we also learn to speak up and are prepared to express our own view. Working together is complex, and there can be occasions where the “junior” pilot defers to the more “experienced” pilot with disasterous consequences, and there are lots of occasions the more experiened pilot literally saves the day. Of course we love to talk about the first scenario, but the second hardly gets a mention.

Some instructors may indeed not go very far, but many fly almost every day, they can and do have a breadth of experience that is exceptional, combined with well honed fly skills. I think the average pilot should be cautious about underestimating the skills of many instructors, and I think the combination of two pilots working through a challenging situation, can often result in a better result than not. I also think that on occasions a much more experienced pilot / instructor will effectively mentor a less experienced pilot taking on a flight they would not otherwise do. It is very easy to critcize the mentor, but we all learn by taking on new challenges.

Whether in this case the flight was unreasonable and whether weather was a factor I have no idea. All the speculation is most interesting (as always), but it is just that, at the moment, speculation.

Multicrew is a complex affair.
People delegate responsibility and thus rely on others. Group of 5 looking at a derelict bridge: „I’m sure one of the others would say if it is unsafe to cross“. If all 5 think like that it’s a problem. If one of the 5 is in command of and responsible for the group the risk is less prone to be shared.

Two pilots are an advantage (two sets of eyes, traffic lookout, point out any deviations), but only one can be PIC. He should take the other Pilot‘s opinion into consideration but always remember that he is ultimately responsible.

Freelance IRI / CB-IR Instructor
LOWG | Worldwide

I think the problem can be that together, each one feel they can handle more than they can alone. This may or may not be true depending on the situation. I think the end result is more risky choices are made. More risky than any of the individuals would make when flying alone. This includes fuel and weather also.


At a bit of a tangent, this interesting BBC radio 4 programme from a couple of years ago shows how a lot of hierarchy problems in commercial aviation (captain ignores 1st officer, who ignores cabin crew, who ignore passengers: wrong engine shut down) have been addressed, but are also present in medicine (surgeon ignores doctor, who ignores nurse, who ignores patient: wrong hand operated on); and how the medical profession are introducing checklists and set phraseology.

I know of one crash that essentially had two passengers on board, i.e. both pilots thought the other was in command. Communication is the answer. Easier to say than to do though. Agreeing roles before the flight (“I’ll navigate, you fly”), following standard procedure (I tend to rush the checklist when there’s another pilot on board), not being afraid to speak up (I don’t think this is a good idea…“), posing questions and suggestions in a positive non-confrontational manner (”James, I think we should…").

EGHO-LFQF-KCLW, United Kingdom

There is something in CRM training called “ risky shift “ and it refers to the likelihood of a committee to make a more risky decision than an individual, presumably because no one individual owns the whole decision.

As a captain of a jet airliner I don’t ignore anyone on the crew, even the most junior cabin crew members input is welcome as it all helps with keeping the big picture.

Last Edited by A_and_C at 02 Jun 17:07
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