ultralight aircraft

Ultralight aircraft push up the number of air accidents

Esther Nestle
3 pictures
4 minutes

We had the opportunity to talk to Stefan Krauss, a very experienced pilot and a lawyer who has a proven track record in aviation law (read part 1). We learn that the trend towards more and more ultralight aviation has a high price. And: Where in the world is the gliding paradise?

Part two of the interview with Dr. Stefan Krauss

How many aircraft accidents occur in Germany each year?

I don’t have the exact numbers in my head right now. But you can find them on the website of the Federal Office for Aircraft Accident Investigation.

The so-called “normal” aircraft accidents are on the decline. This is due on the one hand to the consistently good pilot training and on the other hand to the fact that the increase in so-called “normal” pilots is decreasing. In most cases, accidents are due to pilot errors. If, for example, the engine fails, this does not immediately result in an accident. Only the wrong reaction can have fatal consequences. The quality of the training is the be-all and end-all!

You speak of “normal” pilots and accidents. Are there also “abnormal” ones?

By this I mean ultralight aircraft. In my opinion, the training of ultralight pilots is also ultralight. I say that a considerable number of ultralight pilots cannot really fly. If the engine stops, they feel lost. Many survive in such a case because the parachute opens. It gets tricky during take-off or landing, when the height is too low for parachute rescue. And these cases have unfortunately been on the increase in the last years.

In spite of this trend, there are still far fewer flight accidents than car accidents, even if the public perception may be different. An emergency landing on a field is more spectacular than an accident on the motorway – even if people die in a car accident and nobody gets hurt in an emergency landing.

Dr. Krauss, you are a lawyer for aviation law, flight instructor, examiner, expert witness. All in all, this is a unique mix of expertise that only very few people possess.

There are about 162,000 lawyers working in Germany. An estimated 500 to 1,000 of my colleagues have a pilot’s license. You may find a dozen of them qualified as flight instructors, examiners and experts. So you always meet the same people in the corresponding incidents; you know each other and the cases are divided among us. Of course, insurance companies are always involved in aviation accidents. We meet them at eye level and can judge and assess their arguments well.

How do you become an expert in aviation law? It is not offered anywhere as a subject of study.

When I take myself as an example: When I was 15, I heard about air law for the first time, in the theory part of the training for a gliding licence. Many things are almost self-explanatory, just like in road traffic. One must not “take the right of way” from the other, not cut him off.  One learns which lights are to be used when. I deepened my knowledge when I completed my flight instructor course at the age of 21. Then it was always my task to teach flight students all the important aspects of aviation law in theoretical training.

As you can see from my example: Basic knowledge is taught in every pilot training course. You acquire additional knowledge by “learning on the job”, i.e. by working regularly on and with the topics in practice.

What fascinates you about flying?

The bird’s eye view, as banal as it may sound. You see more, you get a better, more realistic view of the whole, you broaden your horizon – not only your visual, the visible horizon, but not least your knowledge horizon. Take meteorology, for example. The German news service Tagesschau explains the weather map to you, and you are able to draw your own, additional conclusions.

Never afraid in the air? Have you experienced dicey situations yourself, for example thunderstorms?

The planes you fly in bad weather are all equipped with instruments that display thunderstorm cells to the pilot. You do not have to fly into thunderstorm cells. End of story!

I had a really dicey situation many years ago. There I was in the tow plane and the pilot of the glider I pulled suddenly was higher than me. In this situation the motor plane goes downward, the device, with which the tow rope is cut, remained stuck and we were lucky that the rope then released behind automatically. Then I did so many training flights with the glider pilot until he had mastered this type of take-off.

Your personal paradise for flying?

Namibia! The strong updrafts drive the clouds very far up, with a cloud base of four or five thousand meters height. Up to that height you can ascend with your glider and cover long distances. Distances of more than 1,000 kilometres are not uncommon. For comparison: In this country, the cloud cover is usually around 1,500 metres. An altitude flight over Namibia’s breathtaking landscape, with desert and dunes, steppe, forest is the paradise for every glider pilot!

Thanks for the interview! And keep on flying well!

by Esther Nestle

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