A resolution to use good judgment

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport.

Since this is the week that Americans traditionally delve deeply into their resolution bag to try to identify the one or two personality traits that they should work to improve in the coming year, I have a suggestion. Let’s try to improve our judgment. It’s a small thing, but it comes into play often, and when we go wrong, bad judgment can leave a big impression.

It’s hard to convince the neighbors that you’re a responsible adult who is worthy of their respect if you’re standing in the street dressed in your underwear, a big smile, and a pair of handcuffs. Bad judgment and poor decision making can lead to this sort of thing. It’s not good.

We are all aware that the news loves general aviation, but not in a good way. They like to show us at our worst, possibly because it’s colorful, or perhaps because they can get a good chuckle out of the misadventure of some poor, unprepared pilot. Either way, the common factor to a significant percentage of the negative news stories about aviation is bad judgment shown by a pilot.

The truth hurts, I know. We’ve all done something stupid in our lives. Heck, I could start making a list of dumb-boy moves I’ve made right now, and I’ll still be writing when the ball drops in Times Square. I’m not immune to the wicked ways of being rushed and unprepared. Fortunately, I’ve learned from those mistakes – and I’ve learned from a few made by others, too.

The front page of my newspaper featured a photo of a Cessna not long ago, up to its wings in water, after coming to rest in a retention pond. The pilot had apparently been intent on making the flight a non-stop event. And that might have worked out, if the Cessna held another two or three gallons of fuel. But the fuel supply dwindled, the carburetor starved, the prop stopped, and what should have been an enjoyable flight turned into a swimming experience, complete with a horrendously expensive repair bill. Oh yes, and a general public that was once again reminded that pilots aren’t too bright.

Whether that message is intended or not is immaterial. Whether it’s fair or not doesn’t matter one bit. Bad judgment leads to less than desirable outcomes, whether you’re in the cockpit, the dentist’s chair, or trying to decide whether you should deep fry that turkey in the carport or over by the shed where you keep the lawn mower and a can of gasoline. Bad judgment is bad judgment, and the results speak for themselves.

So I will suggest that in 2011 we all crank up our very best decision making skills, and sharpen them just a bit more. You can think of it as self-preservation, or a profit and loss statement, or just avoiding the plain old embarrassment of being laughed at in public. But as we all know, pilots are people, and people have an astonishing ability to do the dumb thing when given the opportunity.

How can we improve our judgment, you ask? Excellent question. We can take our recurrent training more seriously. We can challenge ourselves — and each other — to do better. And we can begin having a serious, long-term discussion about safety, and our role in promoting general aviation to the non-flying public.

Don’t fly with a friendly CFI just because you know you’ll get your sign-off, fly with somebody new now and then, if for no other reason than to get a different perspective. We can also cut out the joyriding that puts us down low in unfamiliar rural areas. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it smart. I suspect there have been a high percentage of pilots who had a sincere change of heart about the idea of flying low – right after their aircraft hit wires or towers they hadn’t anticipated. And it really would be beneficial if we could stop trying to stretch our fuel reserves to the absolute limit in order to save a stop. It’s usually preferable to lose an hour to a fuel stop than to lose an airplane to fuel starvation.

The upshot of all this is, of course, that our judgment reflects on us – and on each other. Because while you and I may not know each other personally, my big, dumb, completely preventable mistake in an airplane just might result in a headline splashed across the front page of your newspaper. A headline that might make all general aviators look like dunces. So I’m going to make it my New Year’s resolution to use my best judgment from now on – for the good of us all.

I invite you to join me.

You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.

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