All of us strive for maximum utility from our airplanes. We all bucked the conventional wisdom to become pilots (“little airplanes aren’t safe,” virtually everyone told us), because we have places to be, people to meet and things to do. Airplanes carve a large section out of our business or family disposable income, so co-workers, accountants and family members pressure us to eke maximum use from our airplanes (or sell them). The cost of multiengine airplanes means many of us strive to justify them as a business tool to increase productivity and perhaps even profit – which, in the right applications, they most certainly can. And, pilots are goal-oriented, can-do people – once we decide to make a flight, it’s in our nature to do everything we can to complete it as planned. Faced with all these pressures, how can you make a confident, and safe, “go” decision?
Instead of clear-cut “no-go” situations that get lost in the gray murk of real-life air travel, let’s look at what we can do to stack the deck in favor of a “go” decision…as long as we can do so consistently and with safety.
Not if, when
The weather is, by far, the most common reason flights are delayed, rescheduled or canceled, and the most significant adverse factor associated with cross-country general aviation flights.
It’s not a matter of if you will have to delay or cancel a flight because of weather, it’s a matter of when and how often weather will alter your plans. As I often put it, there is no such thing as an all-weather airplane. Get used to it. Make sure your passengers, family, business acquaintances and customers know it too – if you travel by airplane, you will be canceling or rescheduling some meetings and trips with little notice. If, in specific cases, that doesn’t meet your personal or business needs, find an alternative way to travel.
Likewise, the most common reason airlines delay or cancel trips is adverse weather. If it stops the air carriers, it will stop you even sooner. The more you fly, the more you’ll find yourself changing plans. How can you avoid the mental trap of having to make a flight when bad weather threatens? How can you safely “go” when hazardous weather is in the forecast?
I recall a client I taught in a pressurized Beechcraft Baron at the factory training program about 25 years ago. He purchased a fully-refundable airline ticket prior to every business trip he took in the Baron. I remember three observations he made about his Standard Operating Procedure:
First, as long as he was willing to leave no more than about 12 hours earlier, or depart to come home no more than 12 hours later, than would be optimal for just-in-time arrival on each end of the trip, he almost never had to use the airline ticket. So, he cashed in the refund almost all the time.
Second, even in that era of $2.25/gallon avgas, it would have usually been cheaper for him to take the airlines than to fly his Baron. So, he did not have a financial pressure to take his Baron instead of flying commercially; actually, the reverse was true.
Third, he found that the simple fact he had a prepaid airline ticket in his pocket for both the outbound and homeward-bound legs significantly reduced his stress level in the days leading up to an important business trip, and it eliminated the constant worry about the weather many pilots feel when they’re away from home on a trip and need to get back. An available airline ticket back home means you have an available “out” in both directions; you’re no more pressured to fly home than you are to make the outbound trip. Of course, you’ll have to come back after the airplane later, but you can do that when your schedule is more flexible, or if your business or pleasure soon takes you back to the same location.
My client was relaxed and able to focus on business before and during a business trip. Because he was under less stress, he was able to get more done before trips. When the time came to begin flight planning, and during the entire time he was in the airplane, he was able to forget about business and fulfill his primary duty (at that time) of being captain of his personal airliner (see “Promote Yourself to Captain,” Twin and Turbine March 2015).
Ways to have an appropriate “go” mentality in adverse weather conditions are:
Be flexible with your schedule. Plan to take off early enough that, even if you get all the way to the run-up area or the takeoff roll before encountering an indication requiring a no-go decision, you can still put the airplane away and get where you need to be in time for the meeting or family reunion. This goes for both the outbound trip (which, on business trips, is often more time-critical than the return) and the flight back home (which is usually the more time-critical leg for personal and family trips).
Flexibility with your schedule means you can get off ahead of incoming weather or make it to the destination before the bad stuff rolls in. You have time to use the tried-and-true method of flying as far as you safely can go toward a line of weather, landing at some intermediate point with enough time to hangar the airplane in advance of the storm, then continue your trip after the adverse weather blows by. In the worst case, fly as close as possible to your intended destination and rent a car to drive from there – I’ve done that several times, saving most of the time of driving the entire way, and avoiding the inconvenience of an airline schedule.
Buy a back-up. Airplane owners spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on upgrades to give their panels and equipment redundancy. Why not invest several hundred dollars on the redundancy of a back-up refundable airline ticket to dramatically reduce the pressure on you to make a “go” decision? As we said earlier, chances are pretty good you’ll cash in the ticket as soon as you’re home from the trip.
Make it easy enough on yourself to say no-go for the return trip as it is to cancel the outbound flight. Give yourself return-trip flexibility so you don’t feel as if you have to take risks to make it back home or to the office.
Act like an airline captain when it’s time for flight planning and operations to begin. Plan your activities prior to launch so you don’t have to attend to business details when at the airplane. Turn your cell phone off while reviewing the weather, preflighting the airplane, and certainly when actually in or around the aircraft. Whatever it is, it can wait until you power up your phone after completing your captain’s duties at the end of your trip.
Now that most of the pressure is off and we have you focusing solely on your pilot-in-command responsibilities, in future issues we’ll look at the five aviation weather hazards – thunderstorms, turbulence, ice, reduced visibility and surface winds – and some of the ways you can make good weather decisions when facing these threats.•T&T