A pilot’s life is made of a succession of “firsts”. Our first solo flight. Our first landing. Our first flight at night. Our first flight in real IMC. Our first flight in heavy rain. Our first approach on IMC down to minimums. Our first go around. Our first flight avoiding weather and so on, maybe for some of us this happened long time ago, but can you remember how fast your heart was beating those “first” times? And, what happens now? Maybe if we can measure your heart beat during approach and landing you rarely can pass 80 b/min!. Well, my friends, that’s called “adaptation”.
Pilots have to adapt constantly to new challenges or they cannot progress on their careers. Problem is when adapting we go too far and we start bending limitations, regulations, procedures and we begin walking on the edge.
I remember a couple of years ago, when I was flying for a new born airline, we were always taking off above the maximum takeoff weight, nobody was pushing us to do it, was a constant with everybody and was completely normal, sometimes when we were at the maximum allowed takeoff weight we used to say, today we are light!. In other situation, same airline, on IMC conditions, we were always approaching below minimums, it was a non-written rule, always go 100 below and see if you can find the runway, so we were ending doing a category I ILS down to a category II minimums, with … no autopilot! And, the list continues. Luckily we never had an accident, but was only that, luck.
This kind of group behavior did not develop on a single day, it began when someone started experimenting how far he can go and the rest followed him, then when the explored new limits, overweight, go below minimums, etc, become normal, we tend to “adapt” to the situation. Problem is the farther we go, the limit is much narrower and there is no margin for error.
When will we ever learn? We are not helping the Company this way. Someone ever said: “if you think that safety is expensive, try with an accident”. Not want to do something that can jeopardize your aviation career?, then don’t do something that can end both.
As Ernest K. Gann wrote in his book “Fate is the Hunter”, in an extraordinary example of humility, when he lets understand that he was still alive not for being a good pilot, only because he was “lucky”. Maybe we can find some good examples between us.