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Will They Go Easy On Me?

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most from Your Flight Training, January, 2007
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Another beautiful day in Florida...Last night, I met an interesting gentleman at my local airport.  He caught me admiring his Bonanza.  Midpoint through the discussion, he told me that his record Orlando to Tampa is 22 minutes when everything falls into place.  He does this commute everyday to work in Tampa. I asked, "What things screw up your timing?" "Once," he told me, "I busted a presidential TFR by failing to get notams before liftoff."  He asked me, "Do you think the FAA will go easy on me?" 

I replied, "Do you think the FAA, TSA, FBI, etc will go easy on you?"  I then said, "I very much doubt it."  As pilots we have the responsibility to get all available information regarding our flight prior to takeoff (FAR 91.103).  Aviation is a game of rules and it demands our full attention.  It shows no mercy and is indifferent.  Those that tempt fate find themselves spinning a roulette wheel where the top prize is our own demise.

I had a student ask me, "I haven't flown in 20 years, will you go easy on me?"  Rather than making excuses for future poor performance, he should have asked what steps should be taken so he can get back to PTS standards.  Students have a habit of coming up with all kinds of excuses for poor performance:
  • I'm not feeling well today.
  • I haven't flown in 2 weeks.
  • I didn't get enough sleep last night.
  • I haven't had breakfast.
  • I didn't have time to complete my homework.
  • I'm an instructor, I don't get to fly the aircraft much.
  • My flight instructor didn't teach me that (to the examiner).
  • My regular instructor doesn't teach it like that.
A guy called me last week and he said he had a helicopter he would like to advertise on my website to see if anyone would be interested in renting it.  I went through the various things he would need to think about before he did such a thing.  He was a little annoyed when he learned that he would have to get a 100 hour inspection now that its for hire.  "No way, that's going to cut into my profits!"  I told him there was no way I could be involved in such a scheme where he would knowingly violate rules on maintenance -- especially on a helicopter.  He asked me what's the worse that could happen.  I thought of a few things:
  • Do you think gravity will go easy on you?
  • Do you think the plaintiff's lawyer will go easy on you?
  • Do you think that the district attorney will go easy on you for knowingly violating safety rules which resulted in someone's death?
I recommended that he do a little "What if" thinking and get back with me.  Haven't heard from him since.

Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with people.  What goes through their mind when they pack their Piper Comanche so full of cargo the windows are obstructed.  You wonder if they are planning to fly or will they taxi to their destination.  This crusty old-timer said, "Darren, if it fits in the cabin, it goes."  I asked him, "Do you think the tree at the end of the runway will go easy on you?"  This is a pilot who clearly does not ask himself, "What if?"

A few weeks later he wanted to go flying to an airport on the west coast of Florida.  I asked about his flight planning.  He said, "I've got a GPS, we don't need to."  I asked him what would happen if there were strong headwinds aloft, "Do you think the empty fuel tank will go easy on you?"  I invited Fred to attend my next Private Pilot Ground School so he could get the latest "updates".  I was glad he agreed.

I'm always amazed by the flying stories you hear at FAA Safety Meetings.  Its usually a great opportunity to learn from the experiences of other pilots who have flown to a neat place.  Or who fly a neat aircraft.  Or who have an unusual piloting technique.  Paul, a gentleman who attended one of my safety seminars recently told me about spinning out of the bottom of a cloud in low IFR but lived to tell.  Besides the cool flying stories Paul told us, I learned he wasn't instrument rated, didn't have a medical, but flew IFR regularly.  Another astute attendee of the seminar wondered if that was legal.  I said, "forget what's legal for a minute.  Do you think the mountain will go easy on you?  Do you think the TV tower will go easy on you?  Do you think the thunderstorm will go easy on you?"  He replied, "Bah humbug."

There are a lot of folks out there sharing the same sky with you and they are saying, "Bah humbug."  Scary isn't it.   There are a lot of folks out there skimping on maintenance because it would cost them a little more money.  Scary isn't it.   There are more than a few people who never gave their flight a second thought -- never asked themselves, "What if?"  Scary isn't it.  Or how about the student who did just enough to get by and some how got his pilot certificate and now he's out flying in the same sky with you today.  Scary isn't it.  How about the guy who just ran out of gas and is drifting towards your house and might just stall/spin straight down into your bedroom.  Scary isn't it.

If you don't do something about it, these marginal pilots are going to scare you out of flying.  And guess what, there are more and more of these folks in the sky today than ever before.  Wanna do something about it?  Hang out and talk to your fellow pilots.  You'll hear stories from them just like what I've just shared with you.  As you hear that stuff, you can influence them to take a safer path.  Why not go to one of the many FAA Safety Seminars and use it to learn and share with others.  More involvement with the hobby you care about is going to have a positive effect on all of us.  Don't have time you say?  You'll have all the time in the world when one of these folks clips you as you're turning base to final.

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