by Paul Cianciolo, FAA Safety Briefing
If you won’t put up with a backseat driver, then why would you be influenced by a backseat flyer? The external or social pressures associated with completing a flight have been associated with a number of general aviation (GA) accidents. There is almost always pressure on the pilot to launch, and pressure to continue. Even the drive to the airport itself can create pressure to avoid wasted time.
The “E” in PAVE
When you fly with non-pilot passengers, prepare yourself; they may not say it, but they are thinking it. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? If you just rolled your eyes at those words, you were affected by the “E” in PAVE (the risk assessment checklist of Pilot, Aircraft, EnVironment, External Pressures). The “E” here is the external pressure of “get-there-itis” — or “get-home-itis” depending on the destination.
The four elements of the PAVE risk assessment checklist.
“Simply put, get-there-itis is a pilot killer!” observes Allan Kash, an aviation safety inspector (ASI) in the FAA’s General Aviation and Commercial Division. “It’s a classic behavioral trap, which is an accident-inducing, operational pitfall a pilot may encounter as a result of poor decision making.” (For more about this topic, check out “Get-Home-Itis” in the March/April 2013 issue of this magazine.)
Get-there-itis is often a result of the influence of your passengers. They tend not to understand the intricacies of GA flying.
“The biggest external pressures that I’ve experienced are non-pilot passengers,” notes Kevin Clover, an ASI and FAA’s national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) operations lead. “Their general expectation is that an airplane ride is going to go like a car ride. They can become irritated and even bored by all the things that have to be done or considered to get the airplane in the air.”
What else is one to do without cell service or WiFi, right? Some people cannot handle the pressure of being away from their Internet connection, so that pressure can migrate to the pilot while in the air. This doesn’t just apply to kids or spouses either. Those high-powered business types used to making decisions and taking risks can create a pressure on the pilot to complete the flight.
“When you tell them there is a safety issue, they still want to make the decision to go,” explains Clover, who is a former part 135 charter pilot. “They can’t seem to separate making a business decision that involves the loss of money to that of a flight decision that could involve the loss of life.”
You’re the pilot-in-command, so the responsibility of a safe flight rests with you, not your passengers. Motivation to meet a set schedule not under the pilot’s control will cause pressure on the pilot, even if flying solo. Significant family events like family reunions, weddings, funerals, graduations, athletic events, connecting travel arrangements, and vacations can cause the perfect internal storm that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
“In this scenario, pilots can be compelled to take unnecessary flight risks when making the go, no-go, decision for that particular flight,” states Marcel Bernard, an ASI and FAA’s aviation training device national program manager. “An example would be departing on a flight in marginal, or forecast marginal weather conditions when they would otherwise not go.” Bernard has personally experienced pressure from his family (passengers) to get home that day. “I resisted and found a hotel room for the night. Making the no-go decision was the right thing to do.”