Let’s call the subject of today’s story Bob. That’s not his real name, of course. But Bob is a common, friendly sort of a handle and it’s only one letter removed from Boob, which is an apt and somewhat more polite description for the category Bob’s behavior put him in.
Here’s the scenario: Bob asked to meet at my hangar on a Saturday morning. He wanted to pick my brain about some aviation-related ideas. That’s all good and fine. It’s right up my alley to meet up with folks to discuss such things.
Not only is it my job, but I enjoy this sort of thing. I’ve attended get-togethers at their homes, their hangars, their offices, restaurants near where they live, or just standing on the ramp after someone recognizes me during a random encounter.
On this particular day I was in the hangar preparing to begin the reassembly of an elderly airframe when Bob flew into the pattern. I didn’t see his arrival. But I’ve been hearing about it ever since, so it’s worth passing along the experience and the resultant aftermath.
The weather was overcast, but the ceiling was several thousand feet above the altitude of the traffic pattern. The wind was relatively light, coming out of the southeast. Weather wasn’t an issue. Of the four available options, Runway 11 was in use at the non-towered airport. There were a couple aircraft in the pattern, a student with an instructor in one. A local pilot getting in some proficiency flying in another. The runways intersect at roughly the midpoint for each.
Bob entered on a right base for Runway 5, turned final, landed, and taxied to the open door of the hangar where my project is stored. He dismounted and a pleasant conversation ensued.
Within a couple minutes a line service worker showed up in a golf cart. He said, “Good morning.” He was smiling. He introduced himself to Bob and politely explained that all the runways at my home airport have left hand traffic patterns.
Handing over a sheet of paper that had the text of 14 CFR 91.126 on it (Operating on or in the vicinity of an airport in Class G airspace) he explained that he was tasked with making transient pilots aware of the left hand pattern and requested that Bob use that established pattern in the future.
That’s when the trouble started. Bob got hot. He became aggressive, raised his voice, used foul language, and generally acted in a way that would make no mother proud of her son.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare scenario. Not only does the pilot population suffer from a rampant misunderstanding of how to conduct operations in and around airports in a Class G environment, there is a persistent sense of offense taken by a percentage of those who find themselves on the receiving end of a corrective conversation.
To be clear, the young lineman was professional, polite, completely correct, and performing his duties as he’s tasked to do it by the airport administration. The transient pilot, Bob, acted in the opposite manner. As a result, my sense of respect for the lineman has increased. And I thought well of him before this all happened. My thoughts about Bob have gone in the other direction.
As a rule, human beings do not like to be corrected. Not even when they’re wrong. Not even when they’re demonstrably wrong and their errant actions can be confirmed as incorrect by regulation and official recommendation. It takes a bit of maturity and humility to realize that we’re all wrong from time to time. You and I make mistakes. We hold inaccurate beliefs. We are imperfect.
It behooves us to be gracious and open to criticism, even if only for self-serving reasons. We can improve. We can benefit from the insights, experiences, and awareness of others. We can learn. Should we make a conscious decision to take responsibility for our actions and commit to expanding and improving our body of knowledge, we can become better people.
This isn’t a flying thing. It’s a human thing. It’s true.
It is difficult to believe that a trained, competent, current pilot could stand on a ramp, holding in his hand the exact regulation that spells out his error, while berating a young man who is completely correct and doing his job to the best of his ability. And yet it happened.
Any CFI who speaks publicly, offering safety presentations to the flying public, knows this truism all too well. The pilots in the room are not the pilots who need to be there. The pilots who most need to be there generally don’t attend. Because they think they already know everything they need to know.
Some years ago, Kathryn Schulz wrote a fascinating book titled, Being Wrong. Her TED Talk is an entertaining and enlightening 17-and-a-half-minute romp through some of the reasons why people are so resistant to the idea they might be wrong.
Spoiler alert: It’s largely because being wrong feels exactly the same as being right. We just hate it when someone bursts our bubble and points out that we are, in fact, incorrect.
In the aviation world, neither you nor I are right because we believe we’re right. We’re right if we can validate our opinion using the FARs, or the Sectional Chart, or the Chart Update, or the Airport Compliance Manual, or any one of the FAA documents that tell us what truly is right, what is correct, what it is to be in compliance.
What we believe is immaterial. How we feel is irrelevant. There is a document, a reference, a resource that holds the answer to our question — and it isn’t found in some CFIs best guess or your hangar mate’s memory. The correct answer is written down, codified, catalogued and publicly available at no cost to us — the users.
Don’t be Bob. We’re better than that. Or we should be. And we can be, if we open our eyes and ears and recognized the simple truth that, sometimes, we’re wrong. All of us.