Tuesday, May 20, 2008
To Go, or Not to Go - That is the Question
I returned from a much needed vacation on the weekend to find that my most recent issue of Flying Magazine had arrived in the mail. I quite enjoy reading Flying. Although it is an American publication, most of the articles are very interesting and relevant to non-US aviators. As well, being able to briefly ignore the fact that I owe lots of student loans, their aircraft reviews allow me to dream about what aircraft I'll purchase when I'm independently wealthy - whenever that happens. It's funny, I'm not that into buying 'stuff', but I sure would love to own an airplane.
One of the articles this month was No, No, I Won't Go by Tom Benson. It outlines Tom's decision of whether or not to make a trip in his own personal aircraft to have some scheduled maintenance work done. Tom makes some really interesting points on how to determine whether to go or not.
He states: The go/no go decision is an easy one to make when the conditions are so ominous that the choice is obvious. The hardest decisions occur when things "aren't that bad," "might improve" or "this isn't that much worse than the time I did it before." This quote hits the nail right on the head. When I was flying the C206 and C207 VFR doing charter work it was the days that were just on the cusp on being bad weather days that I hated the most. Especially when you have paying passengers who need to get to an important meeting, simiply deciding not to go because the weather is borderline is not always a good solution.
There is an oft used saying in Aviation "The hardest part about flying is knowing when to say 'No'"
So, when do you say 'No'?
In his article, Tom outlines some ways in which he decides if he wants to go or not - flipping a coin but then examining if that was the answer he wanted. Different things work for different people. I had a couple of different methods for deciding when to go or not (in a VFR scenario). If you're an experienced pilot and have other strategies I'd be interested to hear them in the comments section.
For me, the first thing I would do, if possible, would be to talk to the passengers. Let them know that the weather is so/so and there may be the possibility that we'd have to turn back, or it'll be really bumpy etc. Sometimes the passengers were fairly nervous flyers, so they'd decide that they didn't want to go.
As an aside, I once had a flight instructor who was flying corporate charters. He had a passenger that really really wanted to get to a meeting. Along the flight path however, there were some thunderstorms building up and the whole flight looked to be very turbulent. The passenger wanted to go anyways and threatened to take his business somewhere else if my instructor didn't do the flight. Right near the departure airport, the turbulence wasn't too bad. So, my instructor took off and then after leveling off, created some turbulence of his own by osillating the controls causing a very unpleasant ride for the passenger. After a couple of minutes, the passenger called to the pilot "you were right, this turbulence is really bad - let's go back!" While I don't necessarily recommend purposely trying to make your passengers sick, sometimes being a pilot requires you to find creative ways to say 'No'.
After checking with the passengers, I'd then go and look at my back up plans. The thing about flying is to always have 'an Ace up your sleeve'. I'd always be thinking about what my options were once I was in the air. If the weather got crappy at a particular point, what would I have to do to make it safely to the ground? Were there alternate airports near by? What's the terrain like? What's my way out? If I wasn't comfortable with those answers, that's when I'd say No.
There have unfortunately been many young pilots who didn't say No when they should have and they and their passengers paid the ultimate price.