Editor’s Briefing: Avoiding Ambivalence

Editor’s Briefing: Avoiding Ambivalence

“Why bother to check the weather?” said my veteran traveling companion. “We’re going to go anyway.” His idea had merit, at least from his point of view. We had been at the boring resort-based meeting far too long; any change of location would be welcome. So, very likely, we were going to go “anyway”, just for a change of scenery.

However, I insisted on at least a cursory look at the current and forecast conditions, and we found the weather doable, if not perfect. What I wanted to know was, quite simply, what were the options if we ran into unflyable weather. Yes, we wanted to go somewhere – anywhere – to get away, but forewarned is forearmed (to paraphrase from the Latin, “praemontius, praemuntius”). It looked as if diverting north, should our filed route become untenable, would give us a safe harbor if needed.

Now, I get a lot of jabs about my habit of in-flight note-taking; by flight’s end, my ever-present clipboard is filled with times-over-points, the previous frequencies, ASOS weather and fuel-burn notations. I’m not obsessive about it; I’m just a little more detail-oriented than my friends who just punch up the route and rely on ATC to sort it all out. I’ve had too many in-panel failures, flying strange equipment over unfamiliar country; I like to have my suspenders holding my pants up, in case my belt fails.

The “doesn’t matter, why bother?” attitude of ambivalence can get pilots into a world of hurt. Whether it’s taking off with a tailwind component to avoid a long, involved taxi-back, or not checking the weight-and-balance effect of throwing all the gear in the tailcone, or figuring the weather will clear up in time for your arrival, the shoulder-shrugging approach to piloting eventually will catch up with you.

Like the old bumper sticker that jokingly says “Who Cares About Apathy?”, ambivalence is just a way of shedding workload. Employing this labor-saving device kicks the can down the road until it finally has to be picked up and carried to the waste bin. By then, you may have stubbed your toe a few times and the can might be unusable from all the dents it’s accumulated.

Last month, one of our airplanes was stranded halfway home, because the pilot chose to launch in the path of approaching thunderstorms, preferring to disregard signs like a low pressure area and a radar depiction of the storms, in an ambivalent trust that “it’ll work out all right.” And perhaps it did, when he wisely parked the aircraft at an intermediate point, but the disrupted mission wasn’t completed and it had to be flown later, doubling the cost.

Management studies generally recommend that the best course is to deal immediately with things that can be resolved on the spot, then to prioritize the must-do deferrals in order of importance, taking care of the easiest first if there’s no priority difference. We have a lot of important stuff to do in the cockpit, some of it life-threatening. It pays to avoid ambivalence.

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