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Training and Safety Tip: Alternatives are essential

On every flight, be prepared for changing weather, have a Plan B, and stick with it to live another day—even for a short $100 hamburger run in your Cessna 172.

Photo by Chris Rose.

Sounds drastic? Not if you consider the surprising number of pilots who may have had a Plan B, did not follow it, and became a statistic as a result of entering low visibility weather and losing control of their airplanes—sometimes with passengers on board.

It’s depressing. Grim columns of statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board show us that, year after year, one of the great killers of pilots is pilots deciding that it’s a good day to die. Or at least acting as if they thought so. We call these VFR into IMC accidents—or visual flight rules flights into instrument meteorological conditions—basically flying from nice weather into weather where you can’t fly using your senses like you’ve been trained to do up to this point.

So, why do pilots pull the chocks, fly, and allow themselves to enter deteriorating conditions? There are a multitude of factors that play a role in decision making, but one of the biggest, when it comes to bad decisions, is a category labeled external pressure. There’s somewhere you need to be. There’s someone you don’t want to disappoint. You only have the clothes on your back—laying over for the night will be a hassle. While overriding yourself on the first two examples takes mental discipline, you can inoculate yourself from the last one by simply packing for Plan B—to divert and land.

Get a light backpack or satchel (there are a lot of cool aviation-themed ones) and pack for an overnight stay: a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, any medications you take, a good book, and a couple hundred bucks cash for food, drinks, and lodging

Keep your bag packed, store it with your headset bag, and take it with you on every flight—without exception. If you’re always equipped to make an unscheduled overnight stay comfortable, you’ve effectively removed one excuse to press on when the weather turns bad on you. After that, the next day will prove to be a good day to live.

William E. Dubois
William E. Dubois is a widely published aviation writer and columnist. He is an FAA Safety Team rep and a rare "double" Master Ground Instructor accredited by both NAFI and MICEP. An AOPA member since 1983, he holds a commercial pilot certificate and has a degree in aviation technology. He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor in the 2021 AOPA Flight Training Experience Awards.
Topics: Training and Safety, Flight Planning, Emergency
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