Second only to loss of control, “CFIT [accidents] remain the # 2 leading cause o

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Oct 22, 2021


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Second only to loss of control, “CFIT [accidents] remain the # 2 leading cause of fatal accidents worldwide” (Advanced Aircrew Academy, 2019, p. 1). Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents are defined as the accidental “collision with terrain while an aircraft is under [the] positive control [of the] pilot or crew” (FAA, n.d.). Despite terrain warning alert systems (TWAS) and enhanced ground proximity warning systems (EGPWS) aircraft continue to succumb to CFIT accidents. Advanced terrain warning systems are intended to improve the flight crews’ situation awareness, however, at times, “the crew received the appropriate GPWS alert but chose to ignore the alert” (Cusick et al., 2017, p. 292).
While armchair flying, it is easy to proclaim, “it’ll never happen to me,” however, we are all susceptible. The FAA explains that CFIT accidents are the result of a loss of SA, the failure to “know at all times what the aircraft’s position is” (FAA, n.d.). With the convenience of GPS navigation, pilots are afforded the ability to fly point to point, which may place them in a position below the minimum enroute altitude (MEA) which ensures obstacle clearance in a particular area.
It may not be a mountain that brings the aircraft down but instead an obstacle, such as a newly constructed tower. Without a current database, the terrain warning systems may not provide the expected protections. In addition, towers often have lines attached and/or guyed wires for stability. Although the tower may be visible, the lines may be difficult to see.
It is surprising to read that “a … majority of [GA] CFIT accidents in a typical year occur in daylight, and with visual conditions” (FAA, n.d.). This results from complacency and a false sense of security afforded by terrain warning systems. Pilots experience a lot of heads down time, inside the cockpit, managing automation. They may spend unnecessary time trying to make sense of an alert or make visual contact with the obstacle being identified, instead of immediately reacting to the warning. An immediate response to a terrain or obstacle alert is the best defense to CFIT accidents. It is important to use the equipment to supplement SA without relying on it for obstacle avoidance. “EGPWS is not a solution for stopping CFIT accidents, but it can help interrupt a flight path which is likely to lead to an accident” (IATA, 2019, p. 5).
Cusick, S., Cortés, A., Rodrigues, C. (2017). Commercial Aviation Safety (6th ed.). Tamil Nadu, India: MaGraw Hill Education (India) Private Limited.
“Do not fly into terrain” placard: How not to CFIT. Advanced Aircrew Academy. (2019, August 16). Retrieved October 18, 2021, from (Links to an external site.).
Federal Aviation Administration. (n.d.). Controlled flight into terrain. FAA Safety Team. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from
International Air Transport Association and Honeywell (IATA). (2019). Performance assessment of pilot response to Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS). Retrieved October 18, 2021, from


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