How To Arrive At The 'What If Rule'

MOST of us realise that the ability to anticipate and predict differentiates us from lower life forms. So, why do aviators continue to make the same mistakes - sometimes with fatal consequences?

Aviation participants and aircraft owners are often the captains of industry or leaders in society. Their aircraft sometimes reflect their successes in other spheres of life, testifying to good judgement in competitive economic environments. Ingrained principles like 'not taking no for an answer' and 'using obstacles like stepping stones' are inevitably transposed to the world of flying.

Those who are not (yet) adequately equipped may attempt to buy their way past inherent shortcomings. Aviation becomes a challenge. We employ the methods we used in sports and industry to achieve. We buy sophisticated equipment, 'rent' ride-along pilots and surf the Internet to get ahead and make up for areas where we would otherwise fall short.

Our powers of presumption and assumption delude many. We do not even talk of problems anymore, but 'challenges'. But, correct risk assessments invariably depend on factors we often do not even look for, let alone see. The risks which 'take some of us out' tend to take us from the 'blind side'.

A reliable anti-dote can be found in Proverbs 14: 16 (Amplified): 'A wise man suspects danger and cautiously avoids evil, but the fool bears himself insolently and is [presumptuously] confident'. Need one say more? In Proverbs 15: 16 we find another reliable air safety guideline: 'Where there is no counsel, purposes are frustrated, but with many counsellors they are accomplished'. What's gone wrong with club committees? Cat's got your tongue? Speak up or speak out, if necessary, in the name of safety.

As an individual pilot, please bear in mind to do proper risk assessments we must firstly acknowledge the imminence or potential for danger and not blind ourselves by either blocking out the 'adverse' facts that may be facing us (or spoiling our fun), or by simply changing the picture before our mind's eye to better suit us. E.g. 'the weather's not so bad…' or '…I think I (or the 'plane) can handle it…' These human traits of reverting to denial or rationalising, also known as 'cognitive dissonance', are root causes of misdirection and, ultimately loss of temporary or overall situational awareness.

When planning flights try to take into account four over-riding safety forces need to be balanced: Your changing ability must measure up to the aircraft's changing ability; whilst the changing environmental factors must always be in tune with the changing operational demands. Once you begin to discern that risk assessment is a continuous process, your decision making prowess will vastly improve.

A reliable gauge or criterion is the 'what if' rule. Always plan for the worst and strive for the best. Never take-off without firstly a clearly defined purpose - even if that's purely in pursuit of pleasure. Then, assess the risks and formulate a Plan B and a Plan C, in case the first one fails you. Fly safely!

Johan Lottering - Focused Flying
Aviation Safety

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