Aviation Safety Letter 2/2005

COPA LogoCOPA Corner - The Power of Situations

by Adam Hunt, Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA)

The power of situations can be overwhelming, especially when flying. Bad situations can get the best of our normally good judgement and lead us into traps that cause us to take unnecessary risks. The good news is that we can often control situations and prevent the traps from occurring; the bad news is that it often takes some advance planning.

Pressing the weather is a good example. Very few pilots set out on a trip with the intention of flying in weather that is beyond their skills. Usually, the situation traps them into making bad decisions. Take the example of a non-instrument-rated pilot who plans a VFR weekend trip by rental Cessna 150. He checks the weather and the forecasts look good for the flight and a return the following day. He departs from home on a Saturday morning for his destination, which is 200 NM away, and stays overnight.

The next day, his departure is delayed and he finds himself leaving later in the afternoon than he expected. The forecasts aren't working out - an unexpected area of low ceilings and rain is pushing into his route of flight. His destination is already marginal VFR and getting worse. It is a short trip, but the 150 will still take almost two and half hours to get him home. It looks like Monday will be a washout and the next chance to get home will be Tuesday. Staying over until Tuesday would probably be the smart thing to do, but the pilot may already have some strong situational factors stacked up against him, conspiring to making that decision to stay a difficult one to make.

Pilots in these situations have to contend with such factors as:

  • The outfit that rented the plane may charge an additional four hours per day to have the plane parked for the bad weather - that could be expensive!

  • The pilot's employer is probably expecting him to be at work on Monday morning.

  • Having enough money to pay for another two nights in a hotel away from home is certainly another factor.

It all adds up to a lot of situational reasons to press the weather and try to fly home.

This pilot may feel stuck between "a rock and a hard place" now, but all of these factors could have been reduced beforehand. He could have:

  • Made sure the outfit renting him the plane had a policy of not charging for weather delays (most schools and other airplane renters know that is good business and saves wrecked planes).

  • Talked to his boss in advance and explained that he may have to use a day's vacation if he gets stuck on a flight away from home. A quick call on Monday morning could have solved that one.

  • Ensured that he didn't get caught without money by carrying his ATM card or credit cards.

Many situations will lend themselves to some creative solutions as well. In this case, the pilot could have possibly:

  • Asked the school that rented him the plane to fly an IFR pilot down to fly back with him - he could have taken an IFR lesson on the way home (assuming the plane was equipped and the weather was suitable for that type of flight).

  • Rented a car and driven the 200 NM home, and returned on Tuesday to pick up the plane, if he absolutely had to be back at work on Monday morning.

With a little advanced planning, almost all pressures from difficult situations can be reduced to the point where they don't lead you into making poor decisions and undertaking high-risk flights. More information about COPA can be found at http://www.copanational.org/.

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