One of the greatest benefits of general aviation (GA) flying is the freedom it offers for personal transportation. In many ways, life is much less complicated when I use my flying club’s Cessna 182 Skylane to visit family in North Carolina: I don’t have to worry about making connections. I don’t have to take off my shoes. And, I don’t have to worry about how many three-ounce containers I can stuff into a single one-quart Ziploc bag.
Still, flying my club’s plane is not without its own complications. A number of articles in this issue are focused on topics that GA pilots, especially those who are flying for holiday visits, need to consider at this time of year. With airplane heaters back in use in many parts of the country, Dr. Fred Tilton’s Aeromedical Advisory reminds us to be alert to the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. Doug Stewart’s article and James Williams’ companion story offer tips for flying safely during winter’s long dark nights. It’s all about using knowledge, skill, proficiency, and common sense to make smart decisions and manage risk.
Hidden Hazards. The key to managing risk is to first recognize the hazard. As Dr. Tilton emphasizes in his column, carbon monoxide is especially dangerous because it can cause trouble before the pilot even realizes it is present. The external pressures that pilots face during the holiday travel season are similarly sneaky and every bit as dangerous to your health and safety. When you are responsible for getting your family to that Thanksgiving turkey feast a few hundred miles from home, you may not realize just how much “fly the mission” pressure you feel until you find yourself bumping against the limits of your aviation skill and experience.
I found myself in just that predicament while on a VFR flight some years ago. Heading south for a family gathering, I was flying in thick haze that increasingly obscured my forward visibility – not good at any time, but especially bad at a time when my route required a turn toward rising terrain. Just as the smell of exhaust provides an uncomfortable clue that you might have a carbon monoxide problem, the view – or, rather, the absence of a good view – through my windshield should have been a clue that I had a judgment problem. I eventually reversed course. But, why did I wait so long to do the right thing? The answer came to me during the drive to my intended destination: I had pressed my limits simply because diverting would cause my waiting family to worry. This particular pressure, like carbon monoxide, had crept in and clouded my judgment long before I recognized its presence.
Reality Rules. Several of the risk evaluation/risk management checklists in circulation these days advise the pilot to identify and mitigate all of the external pressures associated with any given flight. If I could offer just one piece of holiday flying advice, it would be to explicitly identify each and every “fly the mission” pressure you might experience on the airplane trips you plan to take this season. Developing this mental inventory before you go near the airplane makes those insidious pressures visible, much as a carbon monoxide detector in the airplane provides an early and visible warning of its presence. Knowing the reality of what you’re up against is key, and it’s always easier to develop mitigation strategies, including alternative transportation to your family’s holiday turkey dinner, when you’re safe and sound on the ground. (FAA Aviation News NovDec 2008)