Should I fly in a small Cessna?

Philip Greenspun's Homepage : Philip Greenspun's Homepage Discussion Forums : Aviation : One Thread
Notify me of new responses
I am considering booking a trip to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador in December--the
only catch is, to get there I will have to fly in a 3- or 5-seat Cessna for about 40 minutes. I
have never flown in a plane like this and am a bit nervous.

I asked for more details about the plane and pilot, and I was told that the planes are "kind
of old but they have all the permissions and licenses necessary to operate." As for the
pilots, "they fly at least one time a day." They also said that they've been operating these
flights for 10 years and have never had an incident.

Would you book this trip? Are there any other questions I should ask about the plane or

-- Trey Hollis, October 22, 2010


No question that staying home and watching TV is safer. On the other hand, a guy who flies the same route every day is probably not going to get into too much trouble with either the weather or the runways. Old Cessnas are more or less bomb-proof. The charter operator will have gotten an overhauled engine and propeller fairly recently, probably, and you'll be flying in visual conditions, so there is a limit to how badly things can go wrong.

-- Philip Greenspun, October 22, 2010

Maybe someone who has flown the trip you are suggesting can respond in particular, but I can share a few points you might find helpful.

The 10-year track record, as you wrote, suggests the operation is reputable. If you find out the make/model of aircraft used or name of the company operating it, you can search for any accidents. One place to look is As part of the U.S. government, they report on all accidents and incidents in the U.S. They do list factual reports on some items outside the U.S. but I am not sure how they decide what foreign accidents/incidents to include. This may be more harm than help, however, because almost any type of plane produced in any type of quantity has been involved in accidents. This alone does not mean that type of plane is unsafe. You have to look at accident rates versus other aircraft.

Here's a better suggestion, I think: If you are interested, you might try flying in a small plane here in the U.S. You can either ask someone you know or go to your local airport. Most FBOs (companies that offer general aviation services like renting planes to private pilots) will offer a discovery flight for about $100 to $150 that will teach you a little bit about flying and let you take the controls (with an instructor in the plane, of course) and experience flying (probably in a Cessna 172, which is a 4-seat aircraft). In this way, you might look forward to flying in the Amazon in a similar (but probably somewhat larger) plane, and you will be much more knowledgeable about what is going on.

In terms of practical details, the most dangerous flying is probably when it is in the mountains and even more so bad weather in the mountains. I don't know what the terrain is like where you will be flying.


-- Todd Ramming, October 22, 2010