Updated: Jun 10, 2021
As student pilots, we all learned, or should have learned, the FAR's. And, perhaps the most important and all-encompassing one is FAR 91.3, responsibility and authority of the pilot in command. If your a little rusty on your regulations, it simply states that we as PIC are directly responsible and the final/only authority as to the operation of our aircraft. That’s right, the buck stops with us. We make, and are ultimately responsible for, the routing decisions, the fuel load, the weather minimums, the weight and balance, the checklists, and the go-no-go decisions. It's all on us!
It's easy to say and agree to when there’s no pressure on. It's certainly easy to agree with when we're sitting next to our favorite CFI during that last BFR or recurrent training session. But, perhaps not quite so easy when external pressures are applied. A business meeting which cannot be missed, a long-expected holiday trip with loved ones, or a humanitarian flight for a sick child. Each one can bring unexpected and unwanted decisions which we must make.
A WW2 veteran who cut his teeth flying C-46s and C-47s over the Hump in China once told me, “It was better to be down here wishing we were up there, than to be up there wishing we were down there”. He also said, “We didn't HAVE to fly, he HAD to”. I'm sure there were many flights he had wished they could have skipped. There are too many of his fellow aviators who are eternally entombed in their aluminum caskets, strewn along that thousand mile stretch of land.
Sadly, too many general aviation pilots also feel they “have to go”. And equally sadly, too many of those flights have come to similar grief. Corporate, airline, and military flight departments have long ago instituted rigid guidelines for aircraft dispatch which removes some of the decision process from the cockpit. For example, weather below minimums, inadequate crew rest, over extended crew hours, mechanical discrepancy, all of which can cancel a flight. Period. Their safety record reflects this rigid stance.
In summary, as GA pilots with the decisions solely on our shoulders, how do we make that go-no-go call? How do we remove the decision pressure from the cockpit? What help can we get in making those decisions? I would suggest the following:
1. Follow the FAA “I’M SAFE” checklist.
2. Maintain the highest level of pilot proficiency and aircraft maintenance possible.
3. Be willing to consider options or alternative plans to accomplish the mission at hand.
4. Have a trusted and knowledgeable CFI or experienced pilot review your decision.
Fly safe out there!
-Todd Shoup, Senior Pilot, Muncie Aviation Company