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Late report on a VFR trip Silvester from Rotterdam EHRD to Portoroz LJPZ

First of all, thanks a lot for sharing this experience.

In one way this is what just culture should be all about: If you are upfront about mistakes and help others increase their own safety by sharing your experience, this should be taken in as a positive thing and preclude punishment, at least on the part of authorities. While I am not sure if the authorities were actually involved here and whether the prerequisites for just culture were actually followed (e.g. did you file an occurrence report after your runway excursion which certainly would fulfil the criteria for one and was any occurrence report filed after your rather dangerous flight into IMC?) I guess the fact that you are able to analyze your own mistakes so openly and share them should be commended.

However, as someone who also has pilots who rent my plane I can absolutely understand the reaction of the club as the owners of this airplane and I would not even necessarily look at it as a punishment but as the simple question of asset protection: Do I want a person who has quite balantly failed to observe the standards expected of any renter and on top of that been involved in at least two incidents while operating my property to continue using my airplanes? My answer there would definitly not be an unconditional “yes” but if at all be connected to preconditions such as additional training. In this case here it looks as if the club responsables have lost the confidence in this particular renter and simply decided that they could not be sure that a re-occurrence was unlikely. Personally, after reading this story and some of the decision making involved, I can not really blame them, even though I would have tried to resolve this differently.

As for some of the things that happened here:

Sebastian_H wrote:

The plane was due for its next maintenace in about 26h, and with the Deauville trip taking up already 6h, I was left with 20h which was not really suitable for the long trip I planned.

How was that actually in real time numbers? 50 and 100 hour checks generally have a tolerance of +- 10 hours, were these calculated into the figures here? If you say 26 hours, does this mean to the actual hour limit of 50 or 100 or to 60 / 110 hours? If it was to the actual limit, then a 10 hour tolerance can be acceptable unless the club or your CAA sais differently.

Sebastian_H wrote:

Mistake 2: I was fat, dumb, and happy cruising along on my FL, but had in retrospective no clue if the overcast was going down to the ground, or what cloudbase was actually present. As freshly-minted PPL I was of course bound to VMC which would have posed a massive problem in case of an engine failure.

I would not call this a mistake. VFR on top is perfectly legal. Yes you need to know the consequences if the donkey quits and possibly develop a plan for it, but in general, flying VFR on top is in most countries accepted without any problem.

Sebastian_H wrote:

Mistake 4: The plane’s maintenance interval was now coming up quickly, and I got an extension waiver from the maintenance company to increase the hours remaining. Following on from the third mistake, instead of now making good plans how to conciliate the need to get back and the need to do maintenance, I did not really think about that, treating the maintenance interval as guideline and not legal hard limit.

Again, how did this translate? What limit were you reaching, what extension waiver did you get? And at what time did you finally reach home or rather Antwerp? Were you over the extension as well? In other words, did you operate the airplane in an airworthy condition or not?

Sebastian_H wrote:

I did not consider that anything would be damaged.

Well, was there? Did they find something afterwards?

Crosswind landings are a challenge. What were the actual winds and which limit did you consider? What wind were you given, was it over the limit or not at the time?

Looking at the ground track of that runway excursion I nevertheless would have considered this a reportable incident, particularly as you never know what a Flugleiter will do with something like this. If you pre-emtively do an occurrence report, you will most probably be able to expect a just culture approach by any authority becoming involved, but if not, then the authority may take a very different approach.

Sebastian_H wrote:

I should have made it clear to myself that once you have a cockup such as the runway excursion, the day’s flying would be over without further discussion.

I would agree with that. It is a good practice that after an incident or a major mistake you stop for the day and let the lessons sink in.

Sebastian_H wrote:

I stand by my decision to escape upwards.

I would think it probably saved your life. Many IMC accidents in VFR actually are cause by scud running or the attempt to go through a cloud layer to reach ground contact again. Once you were in this situation of being trapped above a layer, I can not really fault you for any of the things you did. Actually you reacted really well by calling mayday and also showed some considerable skill flying that descent on instruments.

In general you are very lucky to be alive and also very lucky that this did not end up with action by your competent authority.

And while you do a pretty good job analyzing the mistakes I would suggest to retrain yourself or seek retraining in terms of flight planning and weather.

Many of us made mistakes early on and those who live learn from them. IMC in VFR planes and with VFR rated pilots however are very dangerous occurrences indeed.

Well, you appear to have learned from it and maybe some of us have taken some lessons along. I wonder for instance how much pressure of the club to get their plane back contributed to that decision to continue in bad weather. That is one of the bits which I have known to have caused grief more than once and one you usually can avoid with your own airplane. But in any case it is better to live to get screamed at by the club responsables than for them having to deal with losing an airplane and you loosing your life.

LSZH(work) LSZF (GA base), Switzerland

Peter wrote:

Maybe I missed something but the punishment seems way excessive.

Think of it in the way you would if that had been your airplane you rented out. Would you rent it out again to the same guy after a report like this, at least without any flanking measures?

One question which comes up in my mind is also whether there were consequences for the club? If the airplane was operated in an unairworthy condition (e.g outside maintenance hours) it could well mean the club getting fined for that.

The question would be, what do they want him to do to get them back? Or have they chucked him out? Doesn’t sound like they did, as he sais for the time being.

LSZH(work) LSZF (GA base), Switzerland

This appears even more odd to me, since the authorities obviously decided not to punish Sebastian, although they’d have well been able to, as he must have flown through IMC in the area of Brussels Int..

It may well have been due to the club’s actions. It’s not unheard of for the competent authority to contact a club and see what they are doing about an incident before deciding if or if not to take action. It could well be that the decision of the club to take to take assertive action was enough to leave the authority the freedom to say that “the club is taking care of the matter…no need for us to get involved”.

Two things jump out at me from this. Some of the mistakes are not unusual for a new pilot and might even be predictable on an early long distance trip. With that in mind, and given that it was a new pilot’s first long distance trip, I’m surprise that an instructor of the club wasn’t tasked to sit down with them and go through their plan and intensions, discuss contingencies (eg if they needed help or weren’t sure about something…who to call to check about equipment failure, non-starting aircraft etc) and offer to be on-call if the pilot needed to discuss something with someone on the trip. This would have surely involved the instructor checking that there was sufficient hours left before maintenance.

The second thing that jumps out at me was the decision to offer to fly in formation, over the radio, with a total stranger. This is bizarre. Sebastian probably had little or no formation flight experience, and the other pilot was of unknown experience and skills. And to offer to do so, without being asked, without even seeing the colour of the other pilot’s eyes, seems very strange. Perhaps there was a sense of euphoria at being free on his first big trip, that lead to such a strange decision.

Many of the other decisions I can see how they would happen, but I can’t get my head around this one.

Yet, ‘let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone.’ There are many of us here who will recognise at least 1 if not more of the mistakes.

EIWT Weston, Ireland

Mooney_Driver wrote:

at least without any flanking measures?

You’re not seriously calling “no plane for you” a “flanking measure”, are you? My point, as I believe is Peter’s, is that the punishment (total flying ban) is not appropriate.

EPKP - Kraków, Poland

Mooney_Driver wrote:

Think of it in the way you would if that had been your airplane you rented out. Would you rent it out again to the same guy after a report like this, at least without any flanking measures?

If this would have happened in my club (I’m one of these famous club presidents who want to decide everything), I probably would. The trip report gives the impression that he is basically a good pilot with a sound understanding of the mistakes made. Although of course it is now almost five months since the flight and the understanding could have been different at the point when his club made their decision to withdraw his renting privileges. It is likely I would have put him through some additional training in human performance and decision making — particularly weather related. I would certainly not have faulted him for making a rather ambitious (for his experience) trip.

Last Edited by Airborne_Again at 27 May 09:57
ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

Sebastian_H wrote:

Lastly, I popped out of the clouds around FL100 and was heading in generally westerly direction avoiding the tops, meanwhile being handed over from Dutch MIL Info to Brussels Control

So I guess, you’ve been in Belgian airspace already, because otherwise you’d been in airspace Alpha in the Netherlands AFAIK.


dublinpilot wrote:

And to offer to do so, without being asked, without even seeing the colour of the other pilot’s eyes, seems very strange.

But Sebastian did meet up with them at Memmingen prior to the formation flight to Portoroz. That said I agree, that anyway he wouldn’t know very much about the other guy and his experience and as a new PPL I wouldn’t have done that either – most likely


tmo wrote:

You’re not seriously calling “no plane for you” a “flanking measure”, are you?

No. I said, I would quite possibly decide not to rent out to him for the time being unless some flanking measures such as retraining and possible sign off following a debriefing by the head of training e.t.c. would confirm to me, the owner of the airplane, that it is safe to do so.

There are several points in this thing which can produce hassle: Exceedance of time between maintenance means basically that the airplane has been operated in unairworthy condition. This is the responsibility of the owner/operator as much as the pilot and at the very least can cause hassle/paperwork up to fines. Not to speak of if a renter has an accident following either exceedance of operating recommendations (crosswind) where we all know what a TSB would do with that and the IMC episode, which could have ended up in a hole in the ground.

The point is: If I don’t feel comfortable with a renter, I will not rent the plane to him, not to punish anybody but as a simple act of asset protection. I’ve had to do this once before after some telltale incidents which were suggesting that more might be on the way. Not fun but part of my responsibility.

LSZH(work) LSZF (GA base), Switzerland

IMO the 2 main errors in what was really the holes in the Swiss cheese starting to line up were firstly the decision to make a unplanned (based on prevailing circumstances) detour to Zell am See for coffee and secondly the hours remaining to maintenance calculations which from what has been written here was an obvious stressor from the beginning of the flight and just got more stressful as the trip went on.
I feel these 2 factors contributed to most of the risks/mistakes which occurred.
SebastianH will not have been the first nor will he be the last to lose control of a Robin on landing. From the description it seems to me he was more concentrated on the crosswind than on being a little to fast which could well have led to the nose wheel being held off and landed too gently which would have meant that the stick needed a slight push forward for it to become useful in staying straight.
IMO it wasn’t the crosswind that got him it was a well known bug on Robin’s.
If I remember my theory correctly this would only have become a reportable incident if there was damage to people or property.
So, other than the things I mentioned here I think SébastienH did a pretty good job overall and in writing such an excellent and detailed report we can all learn something or be reminded of something we may have become a little complacent about.Although maybe he should think a little more about icing when flight planning.
IMO this is what a GA forum is all about.


This report is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time, thank you for posting your experiences.

Your club, instead of banning you from renting, which does nothing to increase safety and awareness, should have asked you to give a presentation in front of other members about this trip and your lessons learned.

It would have been a great opportunity to show that reflection the way you practice it is what increases safety.

By being honest and as a result banned from renting, the club actually incentivizes „hush hush“ cover ups of members in order to avoid consequences („remember xyz, he was honest and look what happened to him, he can’t rent anymore“). It will strengthen get-there-itis (make it look normal), other dishonesties and have undesirable effects on the decision making of club members.

always learning
LO__, Austria
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