When I flew Part 135 charters, the unwritten rule was “Always schedule the trip; it’ll usually work out. If not, we’ll use a backup plan or cancel.” Customers were told to make alternate travel plans if they had a critical need to be there, in case we couldn’t fly. And everyone understood that safety was the number-one priority; convenience, comfort and schedule came next.
With the reliability and performance of turbine-powered aircraft, we can handle a lot of daunting weather, but we have to be willing to give up in the face of doubtful success. Risk management can be supported by all kinds of safety checklists, acronyms and numerical assessments, but in the final analysis it’s up to the pilot-in-command to say “enough, I’m not going” or “we’re not going any further, let’s land now.”
I like the Standard Operating Procedure approach a company CEO declared to me in conversation the other day. He said, “This is not an airline. It’s just a flight for the business. We don’t have to go, and if the weather or other factors are uncertain, we’ll just cancel the trip.” And his flight department flies brand-new equipment certified to the Flight Levels. His feeling was based on the fact the company’s personnel and aircraft are too valuable to be gambled with. As he put it, nothing justifies pushing hard to fly a trip when it’s only a company mission.
A reminder notice on the bulletin-board in our military operations office stated, “There is no reason to fly through thunderstorms in peacetime.” EMS medevac operators go to great lengths to avoid adding stress to what are often viewed as critical life-or-death flights. Similar guidance is seen in lots of operations manuals and SOPs. But, in the end, the PIC has to rule. And support for his or her decision must come from up and down the line. Company owners, supervisors, fellow pilots and ground personnel–all need to respect the authority of the PIC.
But, what if you’re all of these, as the single-pilot/owner? Quite simply, raise your operating standards to reflect the many roles you have to play. When you’re the scheduler, dispatcher, maintenance supervisor, flight attendant, Captain and copilot, there will be times when you just don’t feel right about taking on the responsibility of a trip. And that’s all right.
You need to respect the limitations of operating a high-performance aircraft with a crew of one, in a system geared to crewed cockpits. Face it; some trips have to be flown with extra help. And if you’re beginning to be uncomfortable with a situation, remember the CEO’s philosophy; “it’s only a company (or personal) mission.” Keep your perspective, and enjoy your flying.