Decision making is a skill pilots consciously train for and study. Most people don’t.
And that’s a shame because good decision making doesn’t come naturally. We have to think about our options, weigh the pros and cons of whatever we do — or don’t do. One way or another, there will be an outcome to each decision we make. Some are good. Others, not so much.
Last Friday while positioned and ready to roll on Day 3 of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, a volunteer in a golf cart pulled up to our tent, announced the show was closed for the day, and urged us to button up and leave the area.
That was a good decision. It may have been unpopular with some attendees who had traveled far to attend the show. It probably didn’t thrill all the exhibitors and forum speakers, either. But it was still a good decision. I appreciate the event’s management team taking the hit and coming down on the side of public safety. Well done. Kudos to them.
The weather forecast for Sebring was not good. You’ll recall the weather along the eastern seaboard was less than stellar late last week. The same system that brought massive amounts of snow to the mid-Atlantic states, New York and New Jersey also presented central Florida with a line of thunderstorms that was impressive…in a bad way.
With the weatherman calling for significant thunderstorm activity, straight-line wind gusts of considerable power, and at least a possibility of hail, the organizers of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo faced a difficult decision.
After a year of planning and the investment of time and money on the part of many, do they keep the gates open and hope for the best, or do they shut down for the day in an effort to assure the safety of their guests?
Imagine if this was a flight instead of an event. There wouldn’t be much of a decision to make at all. With your theoretical family and co-workers loaded into your imaginary aircraft, do you rush headlong into a line of approaching thunderstorms simply because you were scheduled to fly that day or do you cancel?
It’s simple. You cancel. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the safe thing to do.
It’s amazing how those two words are so closely linked: Smart and safe. They go together like peas and carrots (with a nod to Forrest Gump for popularizing the expression).
But of course the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo isn’t a flight. It’s a product show and by closing the gates and turning guests away, the show didn’t achieve its stated goal for the day.
Some would let a thought process like that one derail them. Peer pressure, corporate pressure, economic pressure, and personal embarrassment can combine to thwart clear thinking, forcing us into a corner we wish we hadn’t painted ourselves into.
Thankfully, Jana Filip and her crew thought aeronautically last Friday, not economically or in a way that would protect them from potential embarrassment. Their self interest was trumped by the quest to keep their guests safe. For that, they earn the PIC Award for Awesomeness, and the gratitude of anyone who had the sense to come in out of the rain.
This all may seem like small potatoes to some. Especially so because the worst predictions for the weather didn’t play out in the end.
Yet, I choose to see that as an even more compelling reason to publicly thank the event organizers, and to encourage others to think and act similarly. If safety is our goal — and it certainly should be in every aspect of aeronautical endeavor — then sometimes we’re going to err on the side of safety. We’re going to pull the plug on an event or a flight or a gathering of some sort in the interest of safety, only to be called out after the fact for being Chicken Little, over-reacting to a perception that something bad might happen.
I’ll take the risk of being in that Chicken Little category with pride. Certainly, I prefer it to the alternative.
Perhaps nothing shows the other end of the decision-making spectrum better than the aftermath of the Galveston, Texas, hurricane of 1900. About 6,000 people perished in that weather-related disaster. The weather was worse than forecast and people stayed put, doing what they had intended to do, right up until the sea came in and put an end to their plans, and their lives.
When viewing the two extremes of weather related events, I’m solidly in the crowd that prefers to proceed with an abundance of caution.
Thankfully, everyone at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo faired considerably better, in part because the weather wasn’t as bad as expected, and in part because the people who were responsible for keeping them safe did exactly that.
There’s a lesson in there for all of us, if we care to learn it — one that can be applied in the cockpit, as well as to our lives in general.