by Thomas P. Turner
Flying to Houston for business, my brother’s airline flight from Cleveland to Chicago was delayed and eventually diverted because of severe weather at O’Hare. After a ground-stop delay at Cleveland, the ERJ-145 crew flew some ATC-assigned delaying tactics before lining up for the approach, only to miss the approach from very near touchdown because a tornado was reported in the immediate vicinity. The crew diverted to Indianapolis, Indiana, where passengers and crew sat until the line of storms eventually blew through there as well.
The crew of that Regional Jet knew before they left Cleveland that the weather was probably going to be bad. They launched with the plan of beating it to O’Hare, but had an “out” if they needed it. As soon as the situation required a change in plan they were ready and willing to execute – no delay, no second-guessing, no regrets.
Although it’s possible the flight deck crew thought about passengers missing their connections, the hassles of landing at an airport not really prepared to accommodate them, and their own inevitable duty-day limitations growing ever nearer, in reality they probably didn’t care. And frankly, we don’t want them to. We want and expect our professional aircrews to get us where we’ve paid to be. But, even more importantly, we want them to be supremely proficient, and make safety-of-flight decisions without the distractions of considering the individual pressures and schedules passengers face. We expect nothing less of a professional flight crew, especially the person identified as the all-responsible captain.
In the Twin
No matter what you fly, when you act as pilot-in-command, you are the captain of your aircraft.
Your passengers, your family, your co-workers don’t know there’s a difference…they expect you to be as skilled, proficient and wise as the pilots who sit at the pointy end of an airliner. Prove them right.
At some point, as the time of your flight approaches, you stop being a spouse or a parent or a businessperson or a friend. You become the captain, with all responsibilities that go with it. Put on your virtual captain’s hat and wings and act like it. Your decisions must be made on the basis of safely arriving at your destination or, if the situation turns, making certain you and your passengers safely arrive at some destination – even if it’s back where you came from.
If, as a personal and business pilot, you choose to take on the mantle of Pilot-in-Command, you must commit to:
Training, done seriously, on the basics as well as advanced flying skills. Train at least as frequently as a commercial pilot – no less than every six months.
A self-driven course of continuing education, constantly reviewing the basics and the book work. Read and participate in online discussions. If you’re the most experienced pilot you know, get new friends – its good to pass along what you’ve learned, but it’s even more important to be learning new things all of the time.
Taking advantage of mentorship opportunities – fly with a variety of instructor pilots, not the same instructor all the time, to glean from a wide range of experiences and abilities. Take hops with more experienced pilots and airline/military types who are familiar with your type of aircraft and operation.
Using the boundaries of the regulations as a minimum standard of safety, never to be violated. The limitations of your pilot certificates, ratings and currency, and the limitations of the aircraft you fly, are a personal Operations Specifications manual akin to that used by airline pilots. Strive to do “better than book” with your skills and professionalism.
Know what the airplane is…and isn’t. The airplane you’re flying may have extraordinary avionics and equipment, but it is not an airliner. It is a recreational and business tool. It has not been designed, tested, certificated or maintained to the same level as an air carrier aircraft. It doesn’t have the performance or redundancy of an airliner. It doesn’t have the support of a fulltime maintenance staff, or dispatchers, or professional handlers. Yet, it is very safe and very capable…if it’s flown within its limitations.
Know what you are…and aren’t. You are probably not an airline pilot. Even if you are, or have been at one time or another, your air-carrier experience does not fully prepare you for the workload of single-pilot operations in a less-capable airplane. You almost certainly do not get the level of initial and recurrent training in light airplane single-pilot operations that an airline pilot routinely receives. You won’t be able to do everything that you could do as part of a jet airliner crew. This is doubly true if you are a retired airline pilot, because like it or not, age takes its toll on endurance, reaction time and cognitive ability. Honestly assess your abilities and accept the constructive criticism of others. Learn your strengths, your “opportunities for improvement,” and the skills and attitudes necessary to achieve a safety record on par with your airline counterparts.
Know and evaluate the environ-ment. By far, the most common reason for airline delays is adverse weather. Your airplane is less capable to handle adverse weather than an air carrier airplane. Consequently, you will need to delay, divert or cancel flights more frequently than the airlines. I flew Beech Barons 250-300 hours a year for several years in the U.S. Southeast, and I routinely diverted around weather, landed at an alternate to sit out the weather, missed approaches “for real,” parked myself in holding patterns for showers to move on or fog to finish clearing, and canceled a trip and drove a rental car home because of long-lasting weather hazards. It’s not “if”, it’s “when.” The more you fly, the more you’ll delay, re-route or cancel because of the weather.
Fulfill your roles. You are pilot-in-command – the Captain of your aircraft. You are also Dispatcher and the Director of Maintenance. And, you are the aviation medical examiner, responsible for self-certification before and during flight. Plan each flight consciously thinking about the responsibility of all four of these roles. Flying a cross-country IFR aircraft is a profession, whether it’s your compensated profession or not. It requires the time and study and practice of a second, professional job.
So, promote yourself to flight captain, from the time you begin flight planning through the after-shutdown postflight chores. Make your decisions so you uphold the motto of the Airline Pilots Association: “Schedule, with safety.” Act like the leader of a professional flight crew, the captain of your personal airliner…because as far as your passengers, family and business associates know, you are.•T&T
Thomas P. Turner is an ATP CFII/MEI, holds a Masters Degree in Aviation Safety, and was the 2010 National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year. Subscribe to Tom’s free FLYING LESSONS Weekly e-newsletter at www.mastery-flight-training.com.