DEBRIEF

DEBRIEF

 

The Luck Meter—Don’t Leave Home Without It!
by Rob Freeman, Program Manager, Rotorcraft Standard, Operational and Certification Standards, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

It is interesting to note that in 2008, the average life of many electronic items is now measured in mere months, before they become outdated. A three-year-old computer may as well have been unearthed in an archaeological dig when you try to get it serviced. "Sorry, pal; we don’t support that model any longer. It’s way out of date." Technology and change surround us at an ever-quickening pace. All the same, we still cling to ancient dark concepts of chance, luck and inexplicable things that go bump in the night.

Granted, there is an undeniable element of randomness to events. Bad things do happen to good pilots, like lightning strikes on a relatively clear day, for example. However, accidents are more commonly a result of poor planning and multiple factors-many of which could have been mitigated earlier-than bad karma. Yet, how often do we hear the rationalization, "it was just bad luck that caused the accident"? It wasn’t bad planning, questionable decision making, or pressing on into forecast bad weather, but rather, some malevolent force that determined the outcome of the flight. "It wouldn’t have mattered what the pilot had done-their time was up."

An old novel about unlikely aviation accidents and inevitability, entitled Fate is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann, is one of the first and best of the "mysterious airplane crash" genre. It explores the consequences of luck running out and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is still available, and a good read if you want to delve a little deeper into the subject.

A few months back, I had the pleasure of joining an old friend, whom I had not seen for a long time, for coffee. As it happens, he is now a regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB). We were discussing some of the more recent accidents, and trying to figure out if there is any common thread among them that might alleviate the toll. After a thoughtful pause, he proceeded to sketch out a rough draft of a "luck meter" on a paper napkin. He reasoned that since so many folks believe in luck, and perception is reality, there should be such an instrument in every helicopter. Rather than a pilot having vague unpleasant feelings about how the flight is progressing, a luck meter would clearly indicate the current state of affairs. The common reaction of denial until it’s too late when things aren’t going well, would be vanquished forever!

Luck Percent

A luck meter: think about it! Because of the obvious connection between high-risk activities and resulting bad luck (cause and effect?), such an instrument would be without equal for keeping us safe. As good luck-not surprisingly-most often follows solid safety practices, the luck meter would indicate movement into the realm of chance, which is really a loss of control of one’s destiny. The readout would let pilots know when they are on relatively safe ground, or rolling the dice.

Accordingly, I have listed some of the common causes of good and bad luck on the appropriate sides of the luck meter. There are many more, but you get the idea. The grey arc indicates a minimum level of risk that leaves little to chance. The idea is to start a flight with solid safety practices in place, and to minimize dependence on luck wherever possible.

The likelihood (I almost said "chance") of unpleasantries increases as the needle moves away from the grey arc-and a predictable conclusion-into the beige, and finally into the purple. At 100 percent, you are flying completely on luck. This is the point where the guardian angels bail out. Brief forays beyond 100 percent may leave pilots with an interesting story for the bar crowd-if they survive. Most of us have one or two of those life- and consciousness-altering moments when the luck almost ran out. Some others didn’t come back.

The hard work’s done. Now we just need an avionics whiz to put this concept into action! With any luck, we should make a million.

With thanks to Bill Yearwood, Regional Manager,
Transportation Safety Board of Canada, Pacific Region

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