Remarks: Conservatism


Back in the January issue, my Remarks outlined how I try to look at my flying choices through the lens of an accident report if the choices don’t work out. There is a corollary to that and it’s worth exploring; consider this an extension of my January Remarks.

I got my private certificate when I was an indestructible 21-year old and behaved accordingly. Approaching a vast 100 hours of experience, I’d do things that, well, many of us have probably also done but none of us should. You know the list: scud running, stretching currency, not being as scrupulous with weight and balance as the FAA expects, etc.

Fast forward through over 30 years in the computer industry and as a private pilot. I decided to pursue a dream and set my sights on flying for the airlines. I applied myself and tried to be as attractive a new hire as possible. Then, at age 52, I got hired and learned to fly the Part 121 way. Regulations and rigid procedures governed nearly every aspect of my flying. I gotta tell you, I found that a welcome change from the comparatively undisciplined flying I’d done as a Part 91 pilot.

Something I had just barely begun to develop in my Part 91 days that really came into focus during my time flying Part 121, is conservatism in my flying. Maybe it was my creeping age—not feeling quite as indestructible as I had 30 years earlier—or maybe it was the Part 121 influence, but I consciously decided that I would take the more conservative path when more than one choice presents itself.

Say I’ve planned a VFR flight, but it’s a marginal day. Instead of trying to remember the exact weather minimums and hoping to fit within them, I’ll either cancel or file IFR. Simple. Or, perhaps it’s a mechanical issue. I fly a twin, with vacuum pumps on both engines. I no longer have any vacuum flight instruments, but the cabin pressurization system is powered by the vacuum pumps, as are the deice boots that provide known-ice capability.

Either vacuum pump is fully capable of carrying the full load. But say I’ve got a flight planned for the next morning and one pump has just failed with no possibility of a replacement in time. Now, all systems are fully operational and it’s only a look at the individual vacuum indicators that even tells me there’s a failure. Do I go? Good question.

I was faced with that exact situation and I have even mentioned it on these pages. When faced with that choice, I concluded that I’d continue a trip that was underway in the event of such a failure, but I wouldn’t begin one. That conservative decision was made a little easier by the fact that I typically fly at FL200 to FL230, and that day there was a possibility of ice—not a forecast, but simply a possibility in the high (cold) clouds through which I’d have to climb to reach cruise altitude.

The planned trip was recreational, but of high importance to my wife and me. I considered going with just one vacuum pump, but then my conservative decision making kicked in and I realized that I’d have no redundancy for pressurization or deice, and that made the conservative decision for me. We drove over eight hours instead.

I once had a stock broker who, when I was deciding to sell or hold on, hoping for even more growth, would say, “You don’t go broke by taking a profit.” That resonated with me and I tweak that saying for many aspects of life. In flying, you might say, “You don’t die by making conservative decisions.” So, I now always try to make conservative flight decisions. Do you?


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