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Decisions, Decisions

By Tom Hoffmann
Source: FAA Safety Briefing, July/August 2020

Life is full of day-to-day decisions. Which shirt do I wear today? Should I take the freeway or the back roads? Or, maybe like most folks these days, there’s the taxing decision on whether to “eat out” in the living room or the dining room. These are just some of the daily choices we make, usually without much thought or consequence.

External factors, such as time, money, and emotional state can all play important roles in how we make our decisions. Personal experience and habits also factor into the process and, based on how well you apply les-sons learned, that can either be a good or bad thing. While the consequences of some common decisions may only result in being late for an appointment, decision-making skills in the flying world can render more serious consequences and unexpected results. Consider the following scenario.

Gone Fishin’

It’s Friday night and after a grueling week at work you look forward to flying out for a weekend fishing trip with friends. The forecast calls for “severe clear” and light winds in the morning, with the possibility of storms later that afternoon. Sounds like a good plan for an early flight. However, as can be expected — and by all means it should — not all things go according to plan.

That grueling work week triggered several consecutive restless nights with at best 25 hours of sleep for the week. You decide to make up for it and hit the hay early. However, sleep doesn’t come easy as you begin to feel congested and your throat seems a tad scratchy. You pop an aspirin to help.

Waking up late the next morning, your plans for a good breakfast and a detailed weather briefing are disrupted. Instead, you grab some coffee, a banana, a package of tissues for your worsening cold symptoms, and perform a quick overhead scan only to see miles of brilliant blue. You head off and hope not to keep your friends waiting too long.

Arriving at the airport, you discover the stormy front is expected to move through sooner than planned. Instead of calling it a day, you press on, hoping to still squeeze in a couple hours of fishing.

Throwing your flight bag and tackle box in the back of the plane, you complete your pre-flight, scratch down the ATIS, and request taxi clearance. Within seconds the controller responds, “Cirrus 123, taxi to runway 18R.” You begin your taxi as you blaze through remaining checklist items, set frequencies, and ponder how a fresh fish dinner will taste.

enhanced taxiway

During this flurry of last-minute activity, as well as a brief fit of sneezing, you neglect to hear an unexpected instruction from ATC to hold short of the parallel runway 18L for landing traffic. Luckily, your eyes catch the traffic on final, but only seconds before your plane reaches the hold-short lines. You narrowly escape what could have been a deadly runway incursion.

Stop and Read the Signs

Before this pilot even left home, we can see a trail of bad decisions. Stress, fatigue, illness, and get-there-itis all played a part. All too often pilots overlook perilous signs. Individually, they may not seem bad, but in concert, they can be deadly. Nearly 80-percent of all aviation accidents are human factors related, with many stemming from bad decisions.

Complacency and carelessness have a way of creeping up on pilots, so it takes a concentrated effort to steer yourself in the right direction. Throw in some distractions and unexpected events and you have all the ingredients for disaster. That’s why recognizing the consequences of your decisions before you take action is so important.

The pilot in the example had several clues that it was not the best day to fly. Using available resources is one way to break that chain and help mitigate the risk to you and your passengers. These resources range from your own knowledge and personal piloting skills, to ATC and flight service station personnel. By tapping these resources, in addition to heeding the warning signs that impede good judgment, you’ll be well on your way to making more good decisions.

Tom Hoffmann is the managing editor of FAA Safety Briefing. He is a commercial pilot and holds an A&P certificate.


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