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Night flight over the Alps in a SEP

EASA Annual Safety Report 2021:

Figure 46 shows that the safety issue ‘engine system reliability’ is the highest both in terms of number of occurrences and risk. This safety issue focuses on engine failures and engine performance problems that force the aircraft to land. Engine failure alone is not usually an issue that leads to a fatal outcome; therefore HF/HP may also play a role although has not commonly been identified in investigation reports. General aviation aircraft usually have good glide ratios, enabling pilots to find a suitable landing area, given their pre-flight preparation and sufficient altitude at the time of the occurrence. This issue is strongly linked to the safety issue ‘handling of technical failures’. The issue focuses on the pilot’s actions after the engine or other system failure. Many of the accidents under this issue result in serious injuries or fatal accidents. A high-risk score has therefore been attributed. Source

To stay a bit on topic:
So it’s a „main player“ aka high risk even during daytime. „Handling of technical failures“, especially engine failures, during night time, will probably not suddenly be executed in a superior way compared to day time.

Taking off LDLO and flying over hostile terrain for two hours during darkness in a shagged out rental plane (where the pilot has no insight into operational history, maintenance etc..) is a good example for risk homeostasis and risk compensation. The behavior is adjusted depending on benefits. The perceived benefit is to save time (or rather, maximize time spent on the island vs the high cost of the flight). It worked the last time. It worked „well“ this time. It will be done the next time. Until the net benefit turns negative because one dies decades earlier.

I fully agree with @Peter that there is absolutely no point when two hours before or the next morning it’s good weather and daylight.

Annex with List of Accidents

Last Edited by Snoopy at 18 Sep 15:24
Airline/Mentor/Safety/Instructor - Pilot
Based Austria | Operating Worldwide

EASA wrote:

Engine failure alone is not usually an issue that leads to a fatal outcome;

Snoopy wrote:

Annex with List of Accidents

In the list of fatal accidents with “Non-commercially operated small aeroplanes”, no more than 8% were engine related. So I maintain that engine issues should not be the main worry of light aircraft pilots.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

Airborne_Again wrote:

So I maintain that engine issues should not be the main worry of light aircraft pilots.

Then EASA‘s conclusion is wrong?

Figure 46 shows that the safety issue ‘engine system reliability’ is the highest both in terms of number of occurrences and risk. This safety issue focuses on engine failures and engine performance problems that force the aircraft to land.

General aviation aircraft usually have good glide ratios, enabling pilots to find a suitable landing area, given their pre-flight preparation and sufficient altitude at the time of the occurrence.

An engine failure in a non chute SEP in darkness between LDLO and LOWG means very certain death (a small chance remains to glide to LJLJ).

Last Edited by Snoopy at 18 Sep 17:31
Airline/Mentor/Safety/Instructor - Pilot
Based Austria | Operating Worldwide

Even in a twin the Alps would be high level of stress at night. Very few of the NA ones can keep altitude above all peaks should one fail. You need a turbo’d one and with good SE capabilities.

Snoopy wrote:

Then EASA‘s conclusion is wrong?

Let’s say that the EASA conclusion is a mystery to me as only 8% of fatal accidents involved engine issues. Can you explain?

An engine failure in a non chute SEP in darkness between LDLO and LOWG means very certain death (a small chance remains to glide to LJLJ).

Sure, and I probably wouldn’t do it myself. But I maintain that – unless you do such flights regularly – it would have very little effect on your likelihood of dying in a crash.

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

as only 8% of fatal accidents involved engine issues

Let’s assume that’s true. Now take a careful and proficient pilot, one who is not just going to fly into a mountain because the cloudbase went lower and lower, stall/spin the plane on the base to final turn, try to depart 30% over MTOW, or do any of the countless other dumb things which people do. Then you end up with way more than 8%. Maintenance does a lot for general aircraft reliability but goes only so far for engine reliability.

Also, as I said above, at night you can’t see IMC, and crossing the Alps you are very likely to be below 0C, so have no way to avoid getting into something which will give you a nice coating of ice. And probably none of those I saw departing LDLO that evening had ice protection.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter, that is all about a personal risk appetite – some people would fly at night and say the risk is low, the others would say “no way! I’ll die if I crash”.
Some would say NO to flying over open water – the sea is cold and they are not healthy enough to survive it, others will say “I have a plan!”.
Some would do neither, others will do both.

EGTR

I would not do it over Alps for reasons Peter mentioned, nothing to do with engine failure and landing in a rock, but avoiding terrain & clouds will be tough over there, the combination of IMC & 0C & MSA don’t look great even in the summer, not much of that will change with non-pressurised SET or light MEP are everything is still on the table

I think before going for a night adventure one is better off logging 20 crossing of Alps during the day, not that it would change anything but it would help some mental preparation, at least one know what pilot & aircraft can do and what to expect in terms of controllers, terrain, weather and exit options

However, flying in darkness say above say 8kft terrain in summer (still mountains) is likely to be non-event as long as you keep it higher than terrain and wing level (easy on autopilot, slightly difficult on hand flying but not impossible, for an IFR pilot), there is extra risk from night hypoxia which starts at 5kft but in the other hand, you won’t have to worry about nasty convection, winds or hitting other traffic: it’s usual smooth as silk, pax appreciate it and controllers get reminds you to confirm “you have ground in-sight”

On pure stats, flying single engine pistons at night is 10 times less risky than microlights & helicopters during the day, even when engine fails but most of us would prefer day flying in rotary or plastic if given the choice…

Last Edited by Ibra at 19 Sep 11:38
Paris/Essex, United Kingdom

I don’t think I got my point across

Flying SEP over mountains in daylight: engine fails, you can do something about it

Flying SEP over mountains at night: engine fails, you pray

And the more careful you are in the things you have control over, the more important it is to minimise the risks which you have no control over.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

I don’t think I got my point across

Flying SEP over mountains in daylight: engine fails, you can do something about it

Flying SEP over mountains at night: engine fails, you pray

And the more careful you are in the things you have control over, the more important it is to minimise the risks which you have no control over.

Peter, no! :) You’ve made it clear, I’m just trying to make my point clear as well – people will make a riskier move if they feel that the risk increase in negligible comparing to what they do now:
- if you fly over mountains in daylight and think it is safe, and flying at night will make it much more riskier, then you don’t do it, but
- if you fly over mountains in daylight and think it is UNSAFE and flying at night will not make it MUCH riskier, then, well, what the heck! :)

EGTR
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