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Aviation Learning Center Document AC 61-134 - Controlled Flight into Terrain Awareness
Author: Federal Aviation Administration Date: April 1, 2003
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a. Controlled flight into terrain, normally occurs at speed with the result that many such accidents are fatal. A common thread throughout this AC is the importance of proper planning, good decision making, and being able to safely operate the aircraft throughout is entire operating range. Since CFIT implies that the aircraft is operating properly, the main reason for such accidents is what is commonly called pilot error. Therefore, it is the pilot's responsibility to ensure that he or she is qualified for the flight, that the aircraft is properly equipped for the flight, and that the flight is flown according to the appropriate regulations and aircraft operating limitations. According to the CFIT, Education and Training Aid, about 25.0 percent of all accidents occur during the takeoff and initial climb segment of flight. Approximately 7.0 percent of the accidents occur during the climb portion. Only about 4.5 percent occur during cruise. About 19.5 percent occurs during descent and initial approach. But 41.4 percent of the accidents occur during final approach and landing. Takeoff, initial climb, final approach, and landing represent only about 6.0 percent of the total flight time of a given flight. But as these numbers point out, that 6.0 percent of a flight's total time can be deadly. Ground proximity warning systems and the newer terrain awareness and warning systems using GPS have the potential to reduce CFIT accidents on takeoffs and landings. These systems provide one more tool for pilots to use to increase their safety margin when operating close to terrain and obstacles. However, every pilot must know the limitations of his or her database and what objects are included in the database.

b. The solution to combating CFIT accidents starts on the ground. Pilots need to properly prepare to safely execute the maneuvers required during takeoff, initial climb, final approach, and landing phases of flight. Whether VFR or IFR, each flight has critical flight segments. How the flight segments are planned for and handled determines, to a great extent, the safety of the flight. Appendix 1, Flight Safety Foundation's CFIT Checklist, provides one example of how to calculate CFIT risk. It states, "Use the checklist to evaluate specific flight operations and to enhance pilot awareness of the CFIT risk." Page 4 of the checklist tells how pilots can obtain copies of the checklist or reproduce it.

c. Recommendations.

  • (1) Non instrument rated VFR pilots should not attempt to fly in IMC.
  • (2) Know and fly above minimum published safe altitudes. VFR: Fly a minimum of 1,000 feet above the highest terrain in your immediate operating area in non-mountainous areas. Fly a minimum of 2,000 feet in mountainous areas.
  • (3) If IFR, fly published procedures. Fly the full published procedure at night, during minimum weather conditions, or operating at an unfamiliar airport.
  • (4) Verify proper altitude, especially at night or over water, through use of a correctly set altimeter.
  • (5) Verify all ATC clearances. Question an ATC clearance that assigns a heading and/or altitude that, based upon your situational awareness, places the aircraft in a CFIT environment.
  • (6) Maintain situational awareness both vertically and horizontally.
  • (7) Comply with appropriate regulations for your specific operation.
  • (8) Don't operate below minimum safe altitudes if uncertain of position or ATC clearance.
  • (9) Be extra careful when operating outside the United States or in an area which you are not familiar.
  • (10) Use current charts and all available information.
  • (11) Use appropriate checklists.
  • (12) Know your aircraft and its equipment.

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