Air Safety

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

We as a species are adventurers, takers of risk, thrill seekers. Bungee jumping, for instance, was never a high on my list of priorities. But to some daredevils, traveling to the ends of the earth for the ultimate thrill of the highest most dangerous jump, is where it's at.

As youngsters we stretch our boundaries and test our limitations to see how far we can get before we get that skinned knee or cut chin. A badge of honor to some, a pain to others. As adults we simply take that inbred desire and employ it into our everyday lives. Now that I have philosophized on the nature of mankind I will get to the point.

As pilots we are adventurers or we wouldn't have the desire to fly. We often have egos, some the size of barn doors, and attitudes to go along with our egocentric mannerisms.

Fighter pilots, for instance, are chosen and encouraged to develop a sureness of self, a positive attitude parallel to none. The same positive attitude is seen in the operating theater saving lives on a daily basis. This surety is necessary in order to accomplish the task at hand successfully and on a regular basis.

There are times, however, when our egoistic attitude can reach out and slap us a good one. The unfortunate situation is that we are frequently not alone when that happens. We stretch ourselves to our limit and beyond, because we have done that same thing before and nothing unfortunate happened. Our luck held one more time. So do we stop there? Not usually, and that is where we fall on our face, so to speak.

Accidents do not just happen. As much as we would like to blame poor old Murphy, bad situations are the end result of ineptly thought-out series of events. It's like building a house on a bed of clay. The first decision made in the chain of events, if changed, could make the difference between success and disaster.

There is always a mission to accomplish. The key question to ask in my opinion is "How necessary is the accomplishment of the mission to the desired end result?" A pilot on a trip to see relatives might not be as compelled to complete the mission as a commercial pilot on the clock.

I was once told by an airline pilot that his job was to get passengers from point A to point B and not to an alternate point C. He had overflown the airport in several attempts to land unsuccessfully due to weather. He was upset and felt that he had failed the passengers by not landing at the expected destination. Indeed, he had done them a service by not risking their lives. How much of his annoyance was mission-driven and how much ego?

We all take risks and bend the rules from time to time; that's just human nature. No one purposely goes out to blatantly ignore any rules or regulations or to cause harm to themselves or others. For pilots, the federal aviation regulations are the bare minimum necessary to ensure safe flight. Yet some push their own personal limitations, the aircraft performance capabilities and as a result bend or break the very regulations put in place to keep them safe.

Pushing the envelope of safety often has dire results. We need to be mindful of the intent of regulations that are designed to prevent accidents from occurring. Because we are pilots driven by a sense of adventure nurtured by our own perception of self, we must be especially mindful of our mortal limitations and the powerful forces of Mother Nature. Combined positively, they can be utilized to complete the mission as the victor, in triumph.


Patricia Mattison is safety program manager for Juneau Flight Standards

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