Archive for April, 2011

How Bad Could It Be?

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Despite all the excitement regarding pop-top Boeing 737s, and I rode on two of the old birds last week to Sun N Fun,  I’d rather solicit your thoughts on how we should be reaching pilots who have a slight flaw in their risk assessment skills, in my view.

It would  be an understatement to say that Florida was meteorologically active last week. The F1 tornado that hit the airshow on Thursday was the finale and condolences go out to the pilots and vendors who lost aircraft, inventory and sales to the storm. But step back one day to Wednesday late afternoon. The skies had been threatening all day and the airshow was curtailed as a line of thunderstorms approached Lakeland from the west.

The airport was reopened and the exodus began – not unlike any other day after the the show ends. Dozens of aircraft were launching into an approaching squall line. The winds were about 20 knots with higher gusts and you could see the airplanes fishtailing and yawing noticeably. I got to thinking about the logic of a pilot getting ready to go.

It might go like this: If I wait, the storms could damage my aircraft. The weather behind the storms is still going to be unsettled with plenty of IMC. There are no hotel rooms this side of Tampa and it will cost at least $200 to overnight. It will be getting dark in two hours and I can see better now. What are the odds that I’d get into the weather or collide with another aircraft? I’ve got weather datalink and traffic avoidance gear (or not). This aircraft is equipped with airbags and a parachute (or not).  This has always worked before. How bad could it be — Let’s go!

Here’s another way to think of it:  Unless I’ve got an IFR slot reserved, this flight will be VFR and there will be no IFR clearances available within 50 miles of LAL.  There is a lot of IMC about in the form of clouds and rain showers. There is a line of thunderstorms approaching.  I’m about to go aloft with another 50 aircraft who are all hell bent on getting to their destinations and will be looking to get through the sames holes in the weather that I am. How bad could it be? Under the wrong set of conditions – fatal.

Safety people are always looking at half empty glasses while risk takers are the optimists. Most of the time the optimists win but when they lose, they lose big. To my knowledge, there were no accidents Wednesday evening which perhaps proves the previous point. The question that always needs to be asked, as we build a dossier of successful decision-making is, “Are the conditions this time different from what I’ve faced before?”

See the poll for your chance to vote.