The Northeast got hammered this week by an early winter (OK – late fall) snow storm and it totally disrupted the airline flow but there were no accidents that I heard of. There are a couple of messages here. Even with all the hardware and support that the airlines have, it took a day or three to sort things out. Say what you will about the airlines – they have their act together relative to the SAFETY aspects of bad weather. Granted, jets usually have little trouble with icing but the problem shifts to taxi, takeoff, landing and gate availability. It’s tougher with turboprops. They’re still pretty capable in the air and a good bit easier to handle on the ground.
For GA, our challenges tend to be either simple or much more complex. In extreme weather – it’s simple. No Go. It’s when things are “marginal” that it gets difficult. Factor in the aircraft’s capability, our capability, the ground environment (airports closed to snow in this case), the probability of mission-squelching weather and the importance of the trip.
Think about that last one for a minute. In my view it shouldn’t play at all. Getting to a business appointment, home for the holidays or completing the famous hamburger hop is completely irrelevant. What’s tough, really tough, is our emotional and perhaps, financial investment. We told the family we’re coming. Perhaps they’re flying with us. It’s costing $500 per day in cancellation fees at the resort. My reputation is on the line, other pilots are doing it – you know the drill – we’ve ALL rationalized before.
When good professional pilots make decisions, they’re totally detached from the nature of the trip. It’s a job for heaven’s sake – why turn it into an adventure or something much worse? Here’s where the professionals can usually blame someone or something else. The decisions regarding weather, schedule, equipment are mostly made ahead of time so emotion doesn’t get in the way. If the weather is X then we have to do Y. If fuel drops below this point then we must land – now. You get the idea – it’s not my fault, Mon. I know there are 135 operators who have “occasionally” put pressure on pilots but those are bottom feeders.
I recall a South Carolina trip as a new instrument pilot. Really wanted to get there and the weather was marginal – very hazy, crummy radios and a good chance of adverse weather drove an hour to the airport, loaded family into the Piper Arrow and launched. Twenty minutes into the odyssey, stuff just wasn’t working and I decided to turn back. The epilogue – another hour delay getting back, aircraft secured, reload the car and start driving. The muffler fell off in Richmond and we sounded like a freight truck for the rest of the 9 hour drive. Arrived at midnight instead of 4 pm. It’s laughable now – wasn’t then. The point is we arrived and the family forgave me.
I have a trip to Pennsylvania this week and while some may question the wisdom of that destination, I have my reasons. Safe to go? We’ll see.
Perhaps you have a hangar tale of trips taken or not?