When I flew chartered airplanes for a living, I had to decide every day (sometimes several times a day) whether the job we were expected to do could be done safely. Weather was the biggest factor, because the single and twin engine aircraft we flew didn’t fly above the weather, they flew in it. I remember in particular a flight from Watsonville, CA (WVI) to Sacramento Executive Airport (SAC), a one hour flight in a six-seat Piper Seneca. The weather was lousy; low overcast and rain. As pilot-in-command, it was up to me to decide if the flight could proceed. A number of factors went into the decision to launch:
- While the weather was rotten, it was above the minimums established by the FAA for both takeoff and landing.
- The passenger’s company (a large construction firm) had a policy of always flying with two pilots, even though only one was required by the regulations.
- I was very familiar with the airplane and had plenty of recent experience flying by instruments.
- My expectations for the flight didn’t include anything that I or the airplane couldn’t reasonably be expected to handle.
We took off into the overcast and spent the next 50 minutes in the clouds and rain. The two of us who were flying stayed very focused on our position (this was in the days before GPS and moving map displays) and our procedures. We emerged from the clouds about 500 feet above the airport and circled to land on the runway in use. Our passengers spent an hour in the plane instead of four hours in a car and the charter company got paid. A successful outcome all around.
In business today, there is lots of talk about the value of saying no: Perhaps saying yes will take you away from your primary mission, or will cause you to lose focus, or the chances of success are simply too low. All of these are valid reasons to pull the plug on a particular project or task. Here are some useful questions to ask when coming to a go, no-go decision:
- Can you proceed safely? There may be dangers (not necessarily physical) attached to this decision. Consider how they will affect you and the others involved.
- How important is it to do this now? There might be a clear advantage or disadvantage to a delay.
- What will the impact be on others? Keeping commitments is important, as is clear communication when they must be renegotiated.
- If this isn’t done now, how much more difficult does it become to do later? Momentum is a hard thing to get back once given up.
By law, a pilot has have alternatives. Good decisions are based on awareness of a number of possible outcomes, which narrow to a single choice as events unfold. Just make sure that you can divert to an alternate if things don’t go as expected.
Cloud photo: Wikimedia Commons