Persistence 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.