If at first you don’t succeed…

December 11, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

imagesCASSBZY6Persistence is always touted as a virtue. In marketing, business, and even politics, not taking “no” for an answer is often the key to success. To become a pilot one must persist against too many odds our system puts in our way. Unfortunately, that mindset does not always serve us well in more advanced phases of flight.

At the Russian airport of Kazan, a B737 crashed in what appears to be a bad case of pilot persistence. Descend below minimums or perform a late go-around and well, it could be bad. The President of Poland and a planeload of high ranking officials were lost several years ago as they attempted a really low approach.

A personal acquaintance was lost on an attempted Cat III approach in his Cat I Columbia—his second attempt. The ongoing drumbeat of VFR-into-IMC accidents shows the triumph of wishful thinking and persistence against reality.

Finally, in what may be the closed-course record for persistence against any reasonable odds: A Cessna 425 pilot who attempted to blow the fog out of a mountain airport with six unsuccessful attempts at landing. Seven, which is often reputed to be a lucky number, proved to be very unlucky indeed. Besides that, as powerful as PT-6 engines are, they are no match for several million cubic yards of saturated air.

None of this is new and you can bet that before this year is out there will be some additional tragic tallies added to the list. So, how best to avoid the persistent mindset that serves us so well in other of life’s endeavors? Simple! Approach it as the pros do and take the decision making out of the cockpit! The Air Safety Institute has an online Flight Risk Evaluator tool and its mobile version to help make the right call before each flight.


In every critical situation the pros stack the odds in their favor by being sure the odds really do favor continuing versus bailing out. For the air carriers and most corporate departments the reported weather must be above minimums before the final approach fix is reached. Otherwise it’s on to the alternate. Ditto with fuel. As soon as Bingo fuel is reached there’s no agonizing—time for Plan B. Apply this line of thinking to crosswind limits, runway lengths, loading, etc. and understand that it so simply removes the pressure of the present—the temptation to “just take a look.” Those are too often the famous last words.

In performance-critical situations, such as we often face in flying, having an alternative that’s been thoroughly thought through is a really successful strategy. Inconvenient perhaps, but it beats the heck out of the all-too-frequent alternative.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Roger Halstead

    Go-arounds depend on your mind set. A second or even third try should be attempted with the same mind set, ” I don’t have to land” nothing more and nothing less. If yo do have a scheduke to keep then the alternate becomes a part of that mind set. IE. “I don’t have to land, but if we dont maqke this oner then we WILL go to the alternate.”

    I’ve made 3 go arounds because of changing winds. Each time as I saw the wind change beyond the aircraft’s ability to handle it, I just eased in the power and went around. Actually I changed from 06 to 36, and than back to 06. The final try was on 06 with a direct head wind making for a very short roll out. There was nothing tensre about the go arounds or successice attempts to land.

  • Jim McCord

    Persistence can be a virtue in aviation IF it is persistence toward the right objective. That objective should always be returning the passengers, pilot, and aircraft safely to earth. Most of the time the objective of getting to the desired destination, in the desired timeframe, can also be met, but persistence toward the goal of a safe flight should always take precidence.

  • http://thompsonias.com Darron Thompson

    Often times it’s the “pros” that push the envelope–their overconfidence making them careless. Why do pilots continue with an unstable approach? Because they can (“I can salvage it attitude. “) Why Doesn’t a pilot go missed approach? Because of a Lack of Confidence (“I never practice these”). Following the rules (and that subconscious voice) will usually keep you out of trouble.

  • sam sibells

    I have not specifically looked at this app but in general, I do not particularly like these flight risk evaluator type of things as they are too generic. Aside from a lot of things being fairly obvious anyways such as checking the weather, what about the details of the weather.

    For example, the wind. Well, it will be 25 knots today with a near 15 knot crosswind. OK, what type of aircraft am I flying today. A 172, OK, but what is the terrain like by the airport. One airport may be OK while another will have loads of turbulence. Ok, I think I will go. What about if flying the Tiger Moth today from my home base, will definitely be cancelling the flight, especially if the grass runway is not available or is it? What if flying one of the LSA’s I fly today. Seems a bit marginal. One of them has high risk of power loss if a sideslip is done with a somewhat low fuel tank is on the raised wing side. A definite risk if you get it wrong. And in general, their controllability is not as good as your typical 172 on windy days.

    How current am I on type for handling crosswind in that type or any type. How are the brakes on the other taildragger I fly.

    So you see, the handy dandy app cannot replace the multitude of variables that have to be considered and really should not be in my opinion. We need to rely on our own experience and judgement. Perhaps an app might remind you to consider something that you forgot to consider.