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Pilots - The Final Safety Gate

Generally, accidents are not the result of any one single event, but the product of several. My view is that every flight must pass through several gates in sequential order for the accident to happen — the final gate being the pilot. Logically, pilots have the final opportunity to prevent an accident.

AvBuyer   |   9th March 2010
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By Matt Zuccaro

Are you prepared to take their word for it... whatever the cost?

Generally, accidents are not the result of any one single event, but the product of several. My view is that every flight must pass through several gates in sequential order for the accident to happen — the final gate being the pilot. Logically, pilots have the final opportunity to prevent an accident.

A flight cannot occur, or continue without the pilot. Last time I checked, pilots are the ones that push the start button and lift the collective. Like it or not, in all material respects, the pilot shoulders the final responsibility and authority for each flight.

Of course, pilots do not operate in a sterile vacuum, and there are outside influences. Some are positive - such as risk assessment/decision making procedures, safety management systems, technology, and equipment to name a few. Some are negative, however, including real or perceived company/customer pressures, economic factors, competition, or self-induced fears of job loss, self-image, critical mission focus, and all the things humans generally think about.

So what is a pilot to do when the realities of life are upon them? Consider this; if a pilot truly wants to positively affect their environment and ensure safety of flight, they must never forget that a flight cannot start, or continue, without passing through them - the final safety gate.

On a daily basis it means pilots must make safety decisions upon aeronautical factors and the current operational situation only, absent other influences. Do they really want to say, “I had an accident or incident because the boss/customer made me do it”, or “the company should have provided me with the proper aircraft and equipment”?

I hope this is not the case, and that they fully accept the responsibility and obligation they assume as pilot in command, without looking to blame others, or the lack of equipment. If they cannot fly safely, they should not fly that particular mission.

THE PILOT’S AUTHORITY

Having flown varied missions and managed numerous operations over the past 40 years, I know what it is like to have someone question your ability to assess, and make a decision to not fly…even to the point of yelling at you, while threatening your job or organization.

I also know how difficult it is to hold firm on your decisions when other pilots or operators will take the flight. I am not naïve to the real world considerations that are present. A pilot may well be exposed to criticism, or suffer negative effects on their job or company, but to my mind the actual reality check is this: if a pilot succumbs to this line of thinking and pressure, their actions could result in the injury or death of others and their self.

Personally, I would rather be unemployed, although alive and having dinner with my family. I would not like to explain to the family of another why their loved one will not be coming home owing to my own actions/poor decisions.

A SUPPORTIVE SAFETY CULTURE

To the aircraft owner/operators, I respectfully request the following: Ensure that you provide a supportive and just safety culture for your pilots to operate within. Provide them with the necessary training, equipment, and guidance to safely carry out their duties and responsibilities. Provide the pilots with a non-punitive safety input system to management. After all, who knows the flight operation problems better than the pilots? They experience them daily.

Do understand the fact that irrespective of all the safety initiatives you put in place, every flight you conduct must always pass through the final safety gate: your pilots. So goes the final outcome of the flight. As an industry we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, relieved suffering, and enhanced society for the greater good - but we must come to the realization that we cannot fulfill every flight request.

We will not save every life, nor fly every tourist or personal use flight, put out every fire, cover every news story, or perform the hundreds of missions we mostly excel at. Collectively, we must acknowledge that “No”, “Cannot”, and “Will Not”, are acceptable responses to certain flight requests. However, for those flights a pilot does accept, they must strive to ensure they are all performed to the highest level of safety, and to bring everyone home, every time.

 

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