Another Word For SafetyIt was a cold, sunny, winter morning. The previous night's big snowstorm was on its way out, and I was sweeping out the snow that had blown in between the big iron doors of the company hangar. Over on the runway, the airport plowing crew was out in force. "The Cessna Caravan goes out at 7 a.m., and the Beech Baron has to be out by 8 a.m.," I reminded myself.
Two air-freight trucks were idling on the ramp when I fired up the ancient tug and hauled the Caravan out of the hangar. The drivers quickly filled it with packages, and soon it was airborne and heading south. The Baron belonged to a transient pilot. The owners showed up as I was hauling out their airplane. Intent on demonstrating that the lineman's work can be artistic in every detail, I positioned the aircraft to maximum advantage for taxiing on the freshly plowed lanes on the ramp. This placed the airplane with its nose pointing directly to-ward the nearest taxiway and its left wing- tip pointing back at the hangar.
The owners boarded with a curt greeting. Soon the engines were running. And then the pilot turned the aircraft 90 degrees to the right and began to run up his engines. A white cloud rose from the ramp and in seconds my hangar floor was again sparkling white with snow. I don't have very much experience with Barons, but my time in other aircraft leads me to suppose that the checklist does not conclude with an item that says: Turn aircraft, increase power, and blow snow into hangar. No, this was something the pilot chose to do on his own or simply did not think about when he turned the aircraft around.
What pilot hasn't had some similar experience at the hands of another member of the aviation clan? The summertime equivalent of a prop-driven snowstorm is the terrible habit of "sandblasting" another aircraft that is nearby when you start up. Often I have observed pilots start their engines and then sit in the same spot at high power settings-or begin the runup-without regard to what is nearby. It's a simple enough matter to turn around to direct the flow of potentially damaging debris away from people and property.
Most such slights are inadvertent, not intentional, but the effects on innocent bystanders or other aircraft can be unpleasant just the same. Whether on the ground or airborne, courtesy is a practiced art that pilots, air traffic controllers, and even first-time passengers recognize and appreciate. Looking at it another way, you could say that etiquette and situational awareness go hand in hand.
One blustery summer day, a mess was shaping up in the pattern of a tower-controlled airport. The single-engine Cessna on final was bucking a strong headwind. Seven miles in trail was a heavy jet, closing fast. The controller was asking the Cessna for "best speed," but we in the cockpit could tell it was not going to work. A glance at the GPS confirmed groundspeed of only 50 knots despite 90 showing on the airspeed indicator as we neared the runway. A look behind showed the heavy jet looming. I informed the controller of our predicament and volunteered to go around-it was, after all, a training flight. The offer was gratefully accepted.
Give And Take With ATC
On another occasion when I was working in the traffic pattern on a busy afternoon, it was easy to tell that the controller was becoming overstressed. We had been shooting approaches for more than an hour, and by rights we could have stayed all day. But the lads and ladies in the tower accommodate us year in and year out, without complaint. So this time, with rush hour and numerous arrivals descending upon them, I volunteered to depart for a nearby field to continue our training. A weary "thank you" sounded in our headphones.
The gesture on our part did not long go unrewarded. Soon after, as we prepared to take off, a heavy jet announced itself ready for departure, beating us to the mic by seconds. Sitting at an intersection a thousand feet up the runway from the jet, we announced ourselves likewise ready for takeoff. Out of courtesy and gratitude for past cooperation, the local controller instructed the heavy to taxi into position and hold. Then he cleared us for takeoff from the intersection, saving us a long, expensive wake-turbulence hold that would have been necessary had the heavy gone out first. We made the earliest possible turn to minimize the delay, and everybody was happy. It just goes to show what is possible when everyone is willing to lend a hand.
Landing at a small airfield on another summer day, my passenger and I taxied in and were surprised at the no-vacancy situation in the parking area. Well, there was one spot between a Citabria and a Cessna, but it would be very close, and we'd have to get out and push. Over by the terminal, a light twin had been sitting quietly. Now we noticed its beacon on and props turning. The pilot inched cautiously forward between the tight rows of parked airplanes, his wingtip perilously close to other aircraft. It was plain to all that his passage would be safer, and swifter, if we could get out of the way.
Rather than shut down and push our Cessna back, as I had planned to do, we instead turned about, taxied back to the entrance to the ramp, and let the twin go by. He cooperated by giving me positioning vectors over the radio.
My passenger, new to the general aviation experience but familiar with ground-based episodes of big-city road rage, remarked on how cooperative everyone was. He said that, along with the weather briefing and preflight inspection and briefing, the interactions between aviators and other airport denizens were reassuring to him-a passenger's perspective on flying that I found intriguing.
I have thought often about that passenger's observations. Not knowing anything about aviation, he was seeking cues from his environment. He drew reassurance from its most prominent features, including the interactions between pilots on the radio and between pilots and air traffic controllers. These communications were crisp and professional, but respectful, with many ending in "Thank, you, sir," and, "Good day, ma'am." Sure, there were some novices and unskilled participants in the day's doings, with their usual longwinded rambling broadcasts and careless blocking of other transmissions that even a first-time observer could pick out. But the patience of more skilled practitioners, on the air and on the ground, minimized the impact of the others on the smooth flow of operations. All that, plus a superbly smooth, clear day for his first flight, and the friendly folks at the three airports we visited, led that passenger to conclude that he had gotten a first glimpse of a new and fascinating world.
Courtesy in aviation is really the human face of safety, I told him. If we are looking out for the interests of others, and if we can anticipate how our actions affect those around us, we will not be reluctant to sacrifice our place in the landing sequence, or on the ramp, to help another pilot. If we think outside of ourselves, we can see outside of ourselves-a responsibility everyone sharing the airspace system has pledged to assume.
As the Baron taxied away from my snowy hangar that frigid morning, a line from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing came into my head, and I mumbled it in the direction of the departing pilot: "Courtesy itself must convert to disdain if you come in her presence." Then I picked up my broom and began sweeping out the snow.
By Dan Namowitz