Student pilot perceptions regarding failures to report safety occurences

Perception of student pilots regarding failures to report safety occurrences

Dillman, Voges and Robertson (2009) conducted a study into the perceptions of student pilots in relation to voluntary reporting systems and the potential reasons for failing to file safety occurrence reports. A high level of quality safety reporting is essential to a Safety Management System, therefore an environment which promotes safety occurrence reporting is desirable within a training organization.

Background questions were asked to determine the category in which the students fell within with regards to their personal need and use for safety occurrence reports. Table 1 shows the number of students who identified the following statements as true. Of the 157 respondents, there were 6 students which had been involved in multiple safety occurrences, some of which they had reported whilst keeping others to themselves. This accounts for the percentages totaling more than 100%.

Table 1: Student category
Statement Number of Students Percentage %
I have had a safety related occurrence and did not self report 50 32.7%
I have had a safety related occurrence and did self report 28 18.3%
I have never had a safety related incident 85 55.6%

Table 2 shows that, amongst the student pilots surveyed, there is an overall agreement that the perception of fear of punishment, the lack of priority and peer pressure are contributory factors to students failure to report safety occurrences. A bell curve of data is obtained, of which no conclusions can be drawn other than the fact that there are individuals who have strong personal perceptions regarding the reporting of safety occurrence data.

Table 2: Probes by frequency of responses, mean and standard deviation
Frequency of Responses Statistics
Perception Str Disagree (1) Disagree (2) Neutral (3) Agree (4) Str Agree (5) Mean Std Dev interpretation
Fear of Punishment 36 127 46 75 26 2.69 1.12 medium importance
Lack of Priority 33 112 60 70 25 2.81 1.16 medium importance
Peer Pressure 47 122 45 67 19 2.63 1.17 medium importance

Effect Size

From Table 2, the mean and average standard deviation (1.15) can then be used to compare the students perceptions regarding failure to report across the three categories, using effect size (Cohen's d). It can be seen that the means difference between categories are relatively small and thus, insignificant.

Table 3 : Effect size category comparison
Means Difference Effect size (d) Interpretation
Fear of Punishment vs Lack of Priority 0.12 0.10 small
Lack of Priority vs Peer Pressure 0.18 0.16 small
Peer Pressure vs Fear of Punishment 0.06 0.05 -
Effect size (d) calculation based on the average standard deviation (1.15)


By categorizing and analyzing data gathered by Dillman et al (2009), it is possible to determine that while most students had the perception that they should not have to fear any repercussions from reporting safety occurrences, a significant proportion of students perceived that their flying progress might be put in jeopardy when reporting safety occurrences. Peer pressure was also a common perception by students, followed by a lack of safety priority. It must be kept in mind that although a relatively large proportion (55.6%) of students surveyed claimed to have never witnessed or experience a safety occurrence, a lack of student experience or trust in the system may have skewed this survey result. Further studies and sampling from students from various other flight training organizations as well as flight operators will be required in order to expand the survey population and obtain further information.


Research approach

  • The study was a joint investigative project to survey perceptions regarding failure to report safety occurrences by student pilots.


  • A sample of responses from 157 aviation students from Purdue University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale was used in this study. The students ranged in age from 18 - 22 years of age and were in various stages of their flight training from Student Pilot through to Commercial Pilot certificates with instrument rating. Flight experience time for the students ranged from 50 to 200 hours.

Materials Used

  • A questionnaire consisting of 3 categorial statements and a list of 18 possible perceptions as to why students would fail to report a safety occurrence.
  • There was also an open ended section where students could give their perceptions in their own words. This section was limited to the students who had been involved in a safety occurrence but failed to report the event.
  • The questionnaire was voluntary and was made available over the timeframe of one week in order to allow as many students as possible to complete the questionnaire.


The data gathered was from a survey conducted amongst 157 aviation students.


Dillman, Voges and Robertson (2009), used eighteen questions based on a Likert-type scale with five anchors each (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree) to determine the students perception with regards to failing to submit a safety observation or occurrence. In this article, the items have been grouped into the following categories:

  • Fear of Punishment (Fear of the direct consequences of reporting on their training)
    • Will not submit due to a concern that this information will become a part of my flight training record.
    • Will not submit due to a concern of retribution from flight instructor or flight program
    • Will not submit due to concern of being required to complete remedial flight training
    • Will not submit due to concern of being required to complete remedial ground training
    • Afraid that by submitting a report I may be treated differently (negative) by future instructors
    • Afraid that by submitting a report I may be treated differently (negative) on future stage checks
  • Lack of Priority (Poor emphasis on safety)
    • I was unaware that I was supposed to fill out a a safety report
    • I feel that making a safety report is unnecessary and a waste of time
    • Filling out a safety report takes too much time
    • I would only complete a safety report if compelled to by the flight program or safety officer
    • I would rather learn from my mistakes and keep the safety occurrence private
    • I do not want to admit that I made a mistake
  • Peer Pressure (Fear of or embarrassment or ridicule)
    • Will not submit due to concern that this information will be passed on to the FAA
    • I am afraid my instructor will be disappointed in me
    • I have been advised (by friends, parents etc) to never admit wrongdoing without counsel
    • I am afraid of submitting an accident report due to concern that this information will be treated in a reasonably confidential manner
    • I am afraid of submitting an accident report because I do not want any of my fellow flight training students to think I made a poor decision
    • I am afraid of submitting an accident report because my fellow flight students might think I have poor pilot skill

Data analysis

The data article discussed originally included data such as frequencies, percentages and central tendencies. This article analyses the data and provides further descriptive statistics - dispersion and effect size.

Generalization potential

The results of this study are generally limited to the flight training organizations whose students were surveyed, as factors such as the safety culture and management style within the organization is likely to influence the perceptions of its students in regards to reporting safety occurrences.

1. Dillman, G. B., Voges, J., & Robertson, M. (2009) Safety occurrences student perceptions regarding Failures to Report. Journal of Aviation Management and Education

Want to know more?

Dillman et al's (2009) article
This original article provides additional detail about the research conducted. It can be downloaded as a PDF, as Dillman, B., Voges, J., & Robertson, M. (2009). Safety occurrences student perceptions regarding failures to report. Journal Of Aviation Management & Education, 11-14.

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Sean Tan

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