Break through the noise to make the right decision while flying.
Last week, after more than two years investigating a fatal helicopter accident that occurred on Dec. 26, 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its draft report. The report cited, among other contributing factors, an all-too-common probable cause: The pilot’s decision to continue flying under VFR into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), resulting in impact into rising terrain.
After reviewing the report, we might consider what we would have done if faced with the same situation. What thoughts would be in our heads? Would we make different choices, particularly now that we know the outcome of this accident? Would we delay, cancel, turn around, or land and live?
Pilots are human. We routinely make flawed decisions but rarely pay the ultimate price for them. Those who reflect, recalibrate, and, ideally, share what they’ve learned from something as small as an imperfect moment (like forgetting a minor checklist item) to a significant emotional event (such as narrowly escaping a crash) can elevate the safety culture in their organization—and our industry, as well. Alternatively, pilots who “succeed” despite inappropriate behavior can become blind to their sloppiness and fail to recognize an insidious slip toward normalized deviations.
While summarizing their findings during the May 10 hearing, the NTSB investigators expressed concerns about the regional aviation industry’s “drift towards risky operating practices.” The continuation of a risky drift can be described as a normalized deviation from accepted operating practices or even a widespread or routine violation of aviation rules and regulations.
Drs. Doug Wiegmann and Scott Shappell of hfacs.inc co-developed the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS), which defines routine violations as “bending the rules,” which tends to be habitual by nature and is often enabled by a system of supervision and management that tolerates such transgressions. If broad violation of operating rules is a factor in any sector of our industry, we must all help address the issue before more fatalities occur.
Our Industry’s Existential Threat
Pilots face a barrage of threats and distractions on every flight. But perhaps the greatest hazard to bear in mind before beginning a flight is the existential threat our industry faces from ill-informed public perception. Every accident, infringement, careless action, slipup, or honest mistake is noticed and can be weaponized by those who fail to appreciate that on every professionally managed flight, lives and property are saved, services are provided, or dreams are fulfilled—without incident.
So when you find yourself faced with a situation that may compromise safety, suppress the noise in your head, make the right choice, and live to fly another day.