Fear of Flying: How GA Pilots can Lessen the Impact

By Robert Mark on November 13th, 2011

By Douglas Boyd Ph.D

cartoon_fear_of_flying 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 theDouglas 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.

Rob Mark


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3 Responses to “Fear of Flying: How GA Pilots can Lessen the Impact”

  1. Jonesy Barnes Says:

    I have often marveled at the stupidity and shortsightedness of the major airlines in this regard. There’s lots of room in the inflight magazines and other paperwork to run short simple articles explaining flying, which would help ameliorate the ‘fear of flying.’ But in all the many millions of miles I’ve flown, I’ve never run into any such articles, nor seen a single tiny effort at all, to address this common issue. Are the airlines stupid? Or simply lazy?

  2. Doug Worrall Says:

    Great article, and a really important topic for the future of our industry. When airlines are fighting over existing passengers like seagulls for scraps, there is a huge section of the populace that we should be encouraging back into the sky.

    For anyone who’d like to read a different, entertaining and fun approach to helping with fear of flying, check out my free PDF ebook on the topic at:

  3. fear of flying – Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinion | Share My Aircraft News Says:

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