By Douglas Boyd Ph.D
One of every six adult Americans is afraid to fly according to the Journal of Travel Research. Frightened folks – who BTW cross all socio-economic lines – take 66% fewer commercial airline trips than those who enjoy time aloft. Interestingly, this heightened anxiety is despite an excellent airline safety record in developed countries with no fatalities on US carriers in 3 out of 4 years (2007-2010).
The impact of these anxiety-induced flyers on lost airline and charter revenue, calculated at $1.6 billion, is considerable. Perhaps, the extent of the problem is best illustrated by the 50,000 graduates of the British Airways Flying with Confidence program over its 25-year history.
I think we need to get these folks flying! Here’s how pilots can help.
Anxiety feeds on ignorance. Demystifying the flight environment can go a long way to helping these folks. When a pilot next encounters an aviophobe, they should use their aviation knowledge to try and explain why some particular concern might not really be a safety issue.
For example, when I am asked about thunderstorms, my response is that operative weather radar is mandatory on transport-category flights allowing the pilot to navigate around the weather. Or when the terra-firma-confined individual worries that an airplane with engine failure will drop like a stone, I gently put to them that transport category aircraft make wonderful gliders citing the successful 75-mile glide to the Azores of an Airbus 330 with 290 passengers in 2001.
Many phobics have to be incrementally exposed to the fear however. Consider offering the anxious individual one or two circuits around the traffic pattern in your airplane on a day with good weather and minimal turbulence. Perhaps follow this up with a short hop to a nearby airport 10 minutes distant.
Douglas Boyd, Ph. D
Of course there are also, several fear of flying programs like the Flying Phobia Help workshops held all across the country.
Let’s step up to the plate and demonstrate another general aviation contribution to the community and equally important, the economic benefits in terms of airline/charter revenues of getting these folks sky-bound. I think if we’re successful, everyone wins.
Douglas Boyd Ph.D., an active pilot with commercial pilot and IFR ratings, directs the Houston fear of flying program (http://www.flyingphobiahelp.org).
Editor Note: Our thanks to Doug Boyd for suggesting this great piece.