I know I am dating myself with this one, but maybe you remember seeing at least a few late night reruns of the hokey 1960s Batman television series? I’m talking about the one with Adam West in the title role and Burt Ward as the ever-loyal Robin. Whenever the Dynamic Duo got into a scrape – and the series could exist only because that happened at least once an episode – Robin would pause, look at his mentor, and utter a line that has long since crossed into popular parlance: “Now what, Batman?”
Now you might be wondering what, aside from the bat-winged cape and wing-like fins on the Batmobile, could the 1960s-vintage Batman series have to do with aviation? Well, I don’t know about you, but I have mentally muttered Robin’s line to myself at least a time or two when I’ve been caught in aviation situations that I didn’t plan or expect. And, to use the lexicon of those who study human error, some of those situations could have developed into “undesired events” unless I promptly found a good answer to the “now what, Batman?” query.
As befits a superhero, the caped crusader always had a ready response. Among my favorite chuckle-worthy episodes (well before Fonzie’s infamous “jumping the shark” stunt on the Happy Days series) was the one in which we see a remarkably dry dynamic duo riding surf boards. John Williams had not yet composed his thumping bass “DUH-dah” theme that heralds the great white’s appearances on Jaws, but still you can almost hear it when Batman and Robin are suddenly surrounded by shark fins.
“Holy Hexanchiform! Now what, Batman?!”
I love this next bit. Batman calmly opens his cape and whips out a conveniently stashed can of “Bat Shark Repellent,” – never leave home without it – and the finned fiends flee after just one aerosol-propelled “pfft” from the can. Rock on, Batman!
Repelling the Sky Sharks
There have certainly been times when, surrounded by saw-toothed sky sharks attracted by the chum of my own errors, I have wished I could just pull a spray can of “sky shark repellent” from my otherwise well-stocked flight bag. Until such a substance is invented, though, I have to rely on other tools and rules. With apologies to the Ph.Ds for my admittedly unorthodox take on error management, here are three ways to avoid becoming lunch for sky sharks with an appetite for pilot error.
Rule #1: Stay out of shark-infested areas. Aviators too often get in trouble simply by flying into the wrong space, the wrong place, and/or in the wrong weather. Avoiding sky sharks can be as simple as staying out of their territory. Check the aeronautical charts to steer clear of the wrong spaces and places, and check the weather charts to avoid becoming prey to those that lurk in the murk.
Rule #2: Don’t throw chum. One of the core tenets of error management is to design hardware, systems, and procedures to eliminate the obvious sources of error. This approach goes a long way toward keeping sky sharks at bay … unless the pilot throws chum by disabling protective systems (think: landing gear circuit breaker) or willfully disregarding rules and safety procedures.
Rule #3: Take TEM (yes, that’s an “M”). A military officer I know evaluates subordinates not on the basis of error-free performance, but rather on how they manage the mistakes they inevitably make. Life evaluates aviators in a similar way. That’s where the discipline of threat and error management (TEM) comes in. Recognizing that it is impossible to completely eliminate human error, TEM focuses on error recognition, mitigation, and recovery.
So if you’ve blundered into sky shark-infested territory and/or compounded the problem with error chum, TEM is the sky shark-repelling answer to your “now what, Batman?” question. The sooner you admit that sky sharks are nigh (recognition), the more time you have to execute your escape (mitigation) and promptly tend to any sky shark-inflicted wounds (recovery). Don’t leave home without it. (FAA Safety Briefing MarApr 2013)