Group dynamics can be devastating


IN the first article we considered the need for proper flight planning to always involve a purpose, risk assessment and the management of four interacting safety dynamics; i.e. changing crew and 'craft abilities to be balanced with changing operational and environmental demands. Then we considered how and why pilots tend to fall for the same old tricks fate may play on us and to constantly be on the lookout for such potential flight safety impediments, often developing in certain patterns.

The love of flying keeps us coming back, for more... Many of us treat 'threat and error' detection and isolation by either 'rationalising' potentially bad behaviour patterns or by 'denial'; i.e. we either pretend certain risks are not present, or 'downsize' these. Or, we simply blind ourselves by ignoring such 'unnecessary' facts.

Winter is once again at hand. The seasonal changes will bring new opportunities and challenges. The blond veldt plumes will soon be turning a tawny grey. The brisk air will tarnish into bluish haze, stinging our eyes and throats early mornings. Clubs will be arranging 'fly-away' weekends. Flying can be fun and need not be dangerous, provided our conduct remains professional. However, as pilots we can be so over-eager or nice at times, we'd place the lives at of the very people we're trying please (or impress) - our passengers - at stake.

Most 'normal' people in society tend to have a perhaps healthy, though inherent, fear or aversion to flying. Knowing what our oblivious 'ride-along' self-boarding pieces of cargo will be missing out on - lest persuaded by us - we 'bargain' with them and enter into 'entreaties' which do not always comply with good sense and air safety. We e.g. might take along the extra piece of luggage or undertake to have everyone home 'by Sunday afternoon', regardless of weather, etc. We compromise 'escape plans' and 'Plan B' and 'Plan C' - needed if one of the four safety factors (mentioned above) would be out of sync.

Potentially harmful influences and forces may consist of group dynamic influences and pressures. These cannot be reduced to 'peer pressures' and may represent far more overpowering influences which may let us forget and forego 'who' we are and 'what' we are about - as pilots and commanders, who need to abide by rules and accomplish our missions safely. Due to group dynamic processes we might often quite unwittingly indirectly be handing over the control of flight planning decisions to passengers. We might start acting 'out of character' and sense uneasiness, without putting a finger on it. Examples abound - e.g. let's go fly (low) over the river (with high tension wires) and watch the flamingos or crocodiles basking in the late afternoon sun.

Groups travelling together within the confines of aircraft cabins or at remote destinations go through dynamic development cycles. These range from 'power vacuums' to emotion venting 'catharsis' or 'eruption' stages. Cliques and 'cabals' or power centres and imbalances may develop. In a six-seat aircraft as many as 20 direct and indirect individual relational influences can drive a sole pilot to the brink of 'loosing it'. Ultimately, the mere facial expression of e.g. a friend's wife can be so amplified to cause an in-flight 'press on' decision, instead of a turn-around or delay due to bad weather. Beware! Remain in charge.

Fly safely!

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