Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

The Same Sad Song

As I write this, the media is full of news, rumors, and flat-out guesses about the crash of a Cessna 402 in the Bahamas. Another famous entertainer is dead, and a planeload of folks with her. It's an old story, going back to Buddy Holly, Jim Croche, Patsy Cline, David Nelson, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

The rumors are rampant, of course, mostly centered on the probability that the airplane was over its maximum gross weight, and perhaps out of center of gravity limits to boot.

Paul Harvey said it's the age-old story of a pilot's being pushed to fly with too many people and/or too much "stuff." The pilot knows better, but finally yields to the pressure and takes off anyway. Usually, nothing goes wrong - but all too often, something does.

The argument is not always about gross weight, of course. Sometimes it is about the weather. (Does anybody remember Mike Todd anymore? He was the showbiz magnate - and husband of a then young and beautiful Liz Taylor - who allegedly told his pilots to fly the trip or he would find someone who would. They did, and they perished in the subsequent crash, as did Todd.)

The question always arises after the event: Why in the world would passengers who don't know diddly about useful load or weather argue with pilots who do - especially when the pilot is going to be in the airplane?

I can't answer that question, but the fact is that they do. Jack Welch, chief executive officer of General Electric and arguably one of the great managers of all times, said we have to deal with things as they are, not as they should be or as we wish they were. Therefore, we must accept and deal with the fact that passengers do argue with pilots. (It is not always pilots vs. passengers. Sometimes it's bosses vs. pilots or other technicians, and that can reach the highest levels. Some say that managers putting pressure on technicians was the basic cause of the space shuttle Challenger disaster.)

Face another fact: Passengers are not supposed to know anything about our business. We can attack them for pushing the pilots, but the truth is that we should be producing pilots who won't be pushed.

We can't seem to change passengers, so we must work on what we can change, and that is pilots. As CFIs, you have more to do with the standards and attitudes of pilots than any other single group. The flying public depends upon it.

From day one, CFIs should stress the fact that good pilots have backbone. They have standards. They will give up a good job rather than violate those standards. In fact - let's be honest - there is no such thing as a good job unless the pilot has full veto rights for each trip.

I used to know a CFI - a topnotch CFI whose students fly all over the world today - who said that he never trusted a pilot until he knew what kind of trip that pilot would turn down. I agree.

You should instill in your students as much pride in their standards as they have in their skills. Teach them that the truly courageous pilot will buck the boss before he/she bucks the laws of physics.

Lives depend on it.

By Ralph Hood

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