Photo above: HAI/Christi Forbes
You owe it to yourself, your crew, and your passengers to make thoughtful, informed go/no-go decisions.
As our Spotlight on Safety message this month shows, making a go or no-go decision when preparing to fly is hardly ever black-and-white. With so many factors to consider, such as weather, your personal well-being, the aircraft, and internal and external pressures, it’s no wonder those “gray area” situations can prompt stress and anxiety.
When I think back on the challenging go/no-go decisions I’ve faced as a pilot, hindsight and the passage of time have helped dilute the pressures I felt in that moment, projecting the illusion of simplicity. In reality, the decision-making process isn’t simple at all—there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to assessing any borderline go/no-go situation.
Check Your People and Your Aircraft
On the ground, your decision-making skills as a pilot tend to focus on weather, which is an important factor; however, being attentive to your fatigue level, emotional well-being, and physical health are important as well. The physical and mental fitness of your crew is also a critical element. Being able to read the emotional status of your customers, copilot, and crew can provide invaluable information. Developing that ability—a component of one’s overall emotional intelligence—will aid you in navigating gray areas. The weather conditions are irrelevant if the PIC or crew isn’t fit to fly.
Similarly, the PIC’s fitness doesn’t matter if the machine isn’t good to go and appropriate for the mission. Aircraft readiness includes performance and fuel planning, a thorough preflight inspection, and the securement of any necessary documentation, such as maintenance sign-offs, hazmat papers, and proof of insurance.
After any maintenance has been performed on the aircraft, pay extra attention to the area where the work was done. Check for loose wires and hardware, verify that all tools are accounted for, and ensure that all maintenance checks and quality-control items are completed and properly documented.
See the Weather as It Truly Is
Our resources for current and forecasted weather conditions are improving daily, even in challenging or remote environments. But, sometimes, we still get tricked into seeing what we want to see instead of what’s actually there.
When I’ve noticed myself looking at the weather through a particular lens, either attempting to sway its improvement or exaggerate its deterioration, it’s typically based on my emotional feeling about the flight as a whole. At times, that’s induced a sigh of relief, because I can use weather as an excuse to cancel a flight that had other uncomfortable components. Other times, I feel conflicted by the impact of a cancellation, which could have financial, reputational, and customer-service ramifications.
Observing how our presentiments about a situation influence our perspective on current conditions heightens our awareness of what might be affecting our judgment and allows for more-informed choices. While it’s important to maintain the “big picture” view of a go/no-go decision, as pilots we must maintain the ability to compartmentalize bias in order to analyze the weather objectively.
Navigate the Gray Areas
Here are a few tips that may be helpful in navigating the gray areas of making a decision in a go/no-go situation:
- Emotional intelligence: Develop emotional-intelligence skills, which include understanding your feelings, reactions, and tendencies as well as the ability to read, relate to, and respond to others with compassion.
- Planning: Plan ahead for the aircraft. If appropriate, create your performance plan or preflight the night before—and remember your final walk-around!
- Weather: Educate yourself ahead of time about local and regional trends in the weather, which can shed additional light on puzzling or conflicting information. The US government’s Helicopter Emergency Medical Services Tool and the FAA’s WeatherCams program are valuable resources for real-time weather.
- Time: Be patient with yourself and allow ample time to fully analyze the situation. Time is our most valuable asset.
- Risk assessment: Use a flight risk assessment tool, or FRAT, which can often provide additional objective input—even when the decision seems clear. You can find a free FRAT resource on HAI’s website.
When it comes time to make the final go/no-go call, avoid the temptation to attempt the flight or “feel it out.” While a helicopter’s capabilities do allow for a landing nearly anywhere, launching the flight when you’re still “in the gray” can invite a dangerous situation fraught with hazardous attitudes and high-pressure, high-workload circumstances. Instead, have the courage to say no.
Pilots are constantly navigating, whether it involves resolving an interpersonal conflict, troubleshooting a maintenance issue, or utilizing an electronic flight bag. You owe it to yourself, your crew, and your passengers to adequately navigate the gray maze of a go/no-go decision with a well-informed knowledge base founded on the weather, your well-being, and your machine.
Choose black or white, and own it.