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Human Factors

You can’t not go because of the weather

Right now, you’re wondering wether or not you just read the title right. Go ahead. Read it again. Think you got it now? Maybe the story behind it will help…

Summer 2007… I’m a young first officer on a small Piper Chieftain. Still very little experience under my belt, and yet with a head full of dreams. It’s my first summer flying as a full fledged commercial pilot, and I must admit that I was in heaven!!! Charter flying opened the door to so many new destinations and interesting people, it was almost perfect. Almost.

Sometime during the summer, I get the awesome news that I am getting an all-expenses paid vacation in Gaspesie, on the east side of Quebec. Nice!! The catch: I have to fly 8 business men there as well, as they are on their way to go lobster fishing. But really, I couldn’t care less. It was going to be a great flight, and a great weekend spent relaxing on the sea.

The flight there is very uneventful, and our passengers left the airport with their spirits high, full of hope for a few juicy lobsters, leaving the captain and I to ourselves for 3 days. Now comes the kicker – the real story behind the story. See, on the day we were supposed to depart from our little vacation and return to the concrete jungle of Toronto, I made the acquaintance of a rather nasty, blustery character – The Cold Front. You see, a cold front in the winter is more or less a non-event. However, put it on a hot summer day, and you get something like this when looking at the radar. Got the picture? Now imagine not one, but TWO of those lines (called Squall Lines) back to back, right smack in the middle of the flight track back home.

This gave us somewhat of a problem. Despite being a very little sturdy airplane, the Chieftain – or any other aircraft in the world for that matter – is neither certified or capable of penetrating and dealing with such violent weather. And so we had to break the news to the clients. Luckily enough, they were very understanding of the words “violent”, “turbulence”, “hail”, “crash”, “death” and so on so forth. No seriously, it’s crazy how cooperative passengers can be when you give them the information the right way 🙂 Sadly, our boss was not so understanding.

As my poor captain dialed the number connecting him to our beloved boss, his expression went blank as our boss told him what he thought of our collective decision. He hung up the phone and remained quiet, stunned for a few moment, until finally he looked at me.  “I don’t know if I should even be repeating this” he said, still struggling with the thought, “but… apparently.. we can’t NOT go because of the weather”. I stared at him, taken aback and still trying to process the sentence. You can’t not go because of the weather…

Now I thought I was prepared for the cut-throat world of charter flying, having heard all the horror stories while in flight school about pushy management and intimidating chief pilots. But this topped them all.  How could someone make such a statement? And so that day I learned one of the most important lessons of my aviation career so far: Standing up for what is right is sometimes hard. Sometimes harder than you think. But safety comes second to none when it comes to decision making in aviation, and every pilot will, some day, face the music and have to make a stand, put their foot down, and stick it to the man. You may be faced with other pressures, angry passengers, desperate dispatchers, but never forget that as a team, you are infinitly stronger. So if the other guy is the one with his/her head on the chopping block, then never hesitate to stand shoulder to shoulder with your partner and show your support in any way you can.

So that day, I told my captain that whatever the boss said, and whatever would to befall him, I would back him up all the way. We rallied the passengers to our cause and made another phone call, finally convincing the boss that nothing was worth the quiet peace of mind that comes with making the right decision. Ever. And I have to tell you that from that day, my boss not only gained respect for both of us as a crew, but I never again let him try to bully me or any of my partners into a corner. When I went captain, I kept the same stance, and hopefully inspired my First Officers to do likewise as they go along their own path.

The recent accident of the Aeropro King Air in Quebec City shows the sad results of repeated management pressure and a mentality bent on maximum profit to the detriment of pilots and passengers alike. The company mentality, fostering a lax acceptance of overweight departures to save on fuel stops and the likes finaly ended up costing the lives of 7 people and the jobs of many pilots (Aeropro closed doors further to the accident investigation).

And so today, if you find yourself in a tough spot and feel like good judgement is being thrown out the window to the profit of, well, profit or otherwise, don’t hesitate to put your foot down. Stand by your decision, stand by your partner. Like a friend so wisely said, CRM doesn’t include only the people in the cockpit. And wether you’re talking about Crew or Company resource management, make it your team priority to foster safety, professionalism and cooperation above all things.

There. I said it. Now you know. You CAN not go because of the weather. Happy flying 🙂


About jdmarcellin

Professional pilot for a major Canadian operator. Interested in helping make a better world for all my fellow pilots out there. Passionate of aviation and all things that fly. Caution: I speak my mind loud and clear! All views are my own.


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