We have all heard this term before. It usually appears in a discussion of the electrical system during our initial or recurrent training, as in, which systems systems are lost in the event of an engine failure. I would like to use it another way. Follow along on this circuitous analogy.
Professional athletes are trained to do one thing – play the game. Their support system is designed to handle all their personal needs. When they arrive at the hotel, they don’t stop at the desk to check in. Instead, the key to their room is on a small lobby table. They just pick it up and head to their room.
All they need to do is play the game.
Likewise, the airline pilot has a huge support system to help them get safely from point A to point B: weather forecasters, dispatchers, maintenance technicians, baggage handlers, flight attendants. All the flight crew must do is fly the airplane.
How about your support system? Here’s the list:
As owner pilots, we are tasked with doing it all. We adapt to that challenge with varying degrees of success. Has this ever happened to you?
- 9 a.m. Arrive at the airport to prepare the airplane.
- 9:15 Discover that the right main air pressure is 8 pounds low.
- 9:16 Drag nitrogen bottle out of hangar and fill tire.
- 9:30 Wife arrives with many bags and dog.
- 9:31 Dog runs inside hangar and poops on floor.
- 9:35 Rest of family arrives with too many bags.
- 9:40 Notice a line of thunderstorms approaching from the west.
- 9:45 Rush to load up, brief the passengers, copy the clearance and beat the weather.
As PIC, we must deal with all the above and sometimes more. And we seem to accept the stress this incredible workload presents as some kind of challenge to our “manhood.” Regardless of our flying skills, it’s just unlikely that we are going to “perform” as well as the athlete or airline captain.
We can do better than that. We can “load shed” the excessive workload. How? By utilizing the “lead passenger” concept.
Developed in corporate flying operations, this idea focuses on selecting one frequent passenger to handle many of the support functions of the flight – answering questions, loading the catering, adjusting seatbelts, supporting the passenger safety briefing, communicating concerns to the PIC, etc. The lead passenger may often be the spouse, or in a business setting, a frequent flying associate. Importantly, all the passengers must know who this person is and what their role is.
In the event of an emergency, the lead passenger is trained in the removal of emergency exits, donning O2 masks or the exact location of the flashlight and fire extinguisher. They could have their own “checklist” of items to review. The lead passenger does not relieve the PIC of the traditional passenger safety responsibilities, but they could be used to assist in the process. Passengers will likely feel more at ease knowing that someone in the cabin is there to help.
One dark night over the Rockies in IMC conditions at FL410, my friend Larry King had an exasperated passenger tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hey, we’re on fire back here!”
It took several terrifying moments for Larry to realize that the passengers were just “hot.”
A lead passenger could have handled the situation without ever distracting the pilot so that you can perform like a pro.