Just the other day, I spent a wonderful morning cleaning out my beloved Grumman Tiger at my local airport for a few hours. I rewarded myself with a few much-needed laps around the pattern and decided to head home when the sunny sky became spotted with the usual Summer afternoon storms. As I was driving home on the interstate, one of these storms seemed to plant itself in the busiest section of freeway that Memphis, Tennessee has to offer.
Cars began slowing down as visibility reduced on the road. A few drivers forgot to turn their headlights on, which made navigating the interstate much more dangerous. Some drivers thought that the decreased visibility, slickness of the road, and multiple lane combinations ahead didn’t create a danger to them at all and decided to continue to drive above the speed limit. One car though, a silver sedan, had their hazard lights on, staying in the right lane driving slightly slower than the flow of traffic.
As I passed the car, I looked over (as all of us nosy people do) to find a young woman, relaxed in the driver’s seat. This driver with her hazards on identified the increase risk of her commute home with the added storm overhead. Instead of ignoring these risks as some others have, she slowed down and signaled to others that she was going to take her time.
Those of us who have been flying for a few years at least may think that our risk management skills are sharp, and that we were born with a “sixth-sense” to avoid unnecessary risks. When we see a storm ahead on the radar, we immediately decide to plot a course around, or simply wait it out. If we think back to our early flying days, this quick reaction wasn’t so quick.
Each of us had to make mistakes to learn what was safe, what was dangerous, and what could potentially be deadly; whether it be a hard landing, inadvertently flying into IMC, or continuing an unstable approach. The consequences of these mistakes strengthened our ability to make quick and rational risk mitigation actions, which we now perform almost subconsciously when we are flying with a student, alone, or even on commercial operations.
However, your students haven’t experienced these mistakes yet in their entirety. Many students will walk away from their home airport one day with a Private Pilot’s License in hand and a lifetime of mistakes ahead of them. As instructors, it’s not our job to teach the students every bad thing that could ever happen to them in their career in aviation; it would be impossible! Instead, we must take the time to build upon their personal risk management and critical thinking skills.
An easy example of this would be when practicing high-wind and crosswind landings. It’s simple to tell the student, “You shouldn’t land in a crosswind over than what’s prescribed in the Pilots Operating Handbook.” Now the student knows where to find the exact crosswind component allowed for that airframe, but they don’t know the consequences for exceeding that number. In addition, they may take that number as their personal minimum, which can be disastrous.
Instead, we should be discussing the risk factors of a crosswind landing. Approach the lesson by having the student take all available variables into account: their personal experience with crosswinds, the airframe limit, consequences of sideloading, consequences of gusts and wind shifts, and the consequences that the wind speed may not even be accurate.
This seems like a tedious exercise to just teach about crosswinds, but through this process, you are encouraging the student to step back, examine all of the information, and make a well thought out personal evaluation of the situation. You’ve shown the student that aviation is more dynamic than following numbers in a book; it takes your critical problem solving skills!
Those drivers who ignored the risks of driving on a busy interstate in a thunderstorm weren’t thinking critically or mitigating risk by speeding (some up to 20mph faster than the limit!) They weren’t considering the effects an accident would have on their lives or devastating the lives of others due to their poor judgement. That day, the interstate would have been a much safer place to be during the storm if everyone took a moment, slowed down, and put on their hazards.