Covered in part 1 of this article: Complacency, Lack of Knowledge, Lack of Teamwork, Distraction, Fatigue and Lack of Resources.
“I’ve got to get this done!”… Pressure to complete a certain task could be real or perceived. The accident of the airplane carrying the Polish President a few months ago appears to have had a possibly major contributing factor of pressure to complete the flight as planned. One may wonder if the pressure was in fact real or just perceived, unfortunately its to late to ask the pilot. Perceived pressure may manifest itself every time the flight crew or pilot wonders what others may think or do if a decision is made, that interferes with someone else s plan. Loosing employment, punishment, being ridiculed or talked down to, or the possibility of such may induce a lot of pressure and cloud a pilot’s ability to function. Pressure can also be real. A sick passenger, or an important meeting the next day may place pilots in a bit of a crunch. Repeated attempts to land or continue on in deteriorating weather conditions, or flying with low fuel could be the result of pressure. A highly experienced Designated Pilot Examiner once shared with me: “Always ask yourself what is currently affecting your decision-making process?”. In our low and slow world of flying seaplanes we may be more intrigued to think that pressure is the last item on the list of potential human failure, yet, we keep reading about people pushing on and trying over and over to complete the flight before dark, or make it to the planned fuel stop with huge question signs about our fuel reserves lingering over our heads. If it looks bad, it probably is bad. Divert, stop, check, land and wait or simply turning around are usually the options that may leave us in need for a good explanation, but doing so beats leaving people behind who wonder about the “WHY?” of an accident, later.
8. Lack of Assertiveness:
“I own this plane and…” … Do you speak up when you notice a safety concern? As recreational seaplane pilots, we may never be affected by this issue. However, those of us who work with seaplanes may at times find an operator or owner who is not afraid of telling us that as the owner of the plane or operation, the mission is deemed possible. Saying No! can cost a job or the good relationship with a fellow pilot. But sometimes, saying no also comes with the huge benefit of meeting the offender again. “Being scared, or saying no takes a minute. Being dead takes a lifetime!”
9. Lack of Communication:
“I thought you wanted me to turn…” … Again, a point that may only have limited validity in our relaxed seaplane environment, yet the lack of communication is probably most prevalent in the training environment, where assuming what the instructor wanted, may yield a surprise! Equally, assuming that the mechanic did in fact check and see if he/ she could duplicate the cracking sound in left turns, or assuming that this seaplane base had no bird problems is just about as dangerous. The easy fix: Don’t assume and ask for clarification.
“Around here normally we…” … Something considered absolutely normal to you, may be next to absolute horror to others. Local and organizational norms are usually not documented and have been adopted by groups or organizations to streamline the flow of business or ease particular procedures. What we consider the norm may not make the least bit of sense to someone outside. Following standard procedure at least when strangers are in town, helps diffuse the confusion. An existing norm does not have to be right, it’s just a way for people to make things happen. However, when we encounter established norms which fail to make sense, it is best to ask and clarify, again. In the end, local norms and “ways of doing this” do not overrule written policy or regulation and sometimes it may be necessary to interfere.
11. Lack of Awareness:
“Why is it doing that?”… Usually a good indicator that someone has lost awareness, is when confusion takes over. Our mental processor is stuck or threading mud. The human fails to see and understand a condition or loses sight of the “big picture”. In the seaplane world this may be seen when realizing that the pilot who just pushed off the dock with the water rudders up has literally no control over his plane. It happens to the best and there is no experience limit. If we do not know what’s going on, we tend to try to fix the issue, never realizing that the big picture is to maintain control. Simulated engine failures are a good example that give a glimpse at the lack or sudden loss of awareness. Example: A flight instructor notices his students fixation on the emergency checklist, or trying to restart the engine, troubleshooting while getting dangerously close to a stall. A GPS is dimmed and the pilot may instantly feel overwhelmed at figuring this VOR/DME out again. An instrument pilot sets up for the approach, miles from the proper fix, or descends beneath the deck. A multitude of things can be considered the result of a lack of awareness, however, the victim is usually last to find out that something is wrong. There is no generic recipe to avoid a loss of awareness, other than constantly asking oneself: “Where am I going?; What am I doing?; Is this what I really need to be doing now?”. Sometimes talking out loud helps with maintaining awareness. Things such as “Gear up for water landing” can be a last-minute reminder to make sure.
“I’m so mad at…” … We differentiate between positive stress and negative stress. Positive stress is usually a fun & challenging situation that appears as if it can be mastered. We may sweat and shake through it, but the expected outcome is visible and attainable success. Remembering ones first solo flight (if completed without bent metal or splitting wood) might be a good measure to remember positive stress. Anticipation, a little bit of fear, but at the same time realizing that the old guy or gal who just walked away from the airplane has full confidence in our skills and ability to do this alone can be a major stress factor. It becomes positive stress after takeoff. Contrary to positive stress is negative stress. Being mad, upset, cranky or very anxious or even very fearful of an upcoming flight is negative stress. Trouble with a significant other, any sort of saddening event or loss of a loved one, losing a job or other life changing events may be a perfect excuse to fire up the plane and go for a flight but the goal must be to focus on the flight and its demands. Aggression is the last thing we need in the cockpit. Remembering the IMSAFE checklist before each flight is a productive countermeasure to it and gives us an opportunity to evaluate ourselves prior to wishing to be on the ground again.