I know that I’m on thin ice generalizing about how the sexes communicate and how each side often views the same situation differently. But here goes.
Stancie and I were talking the other evening about how every woman we know is going to ask her guy “what were you thinking” after some event doesn’t go well. Usually this question is asked more than once with only slightly different wording or intonation.
The real problem is not the question, but the guy’s answer. Women hate our response which is invariably some version of “I didn’t think that would happen.” That answer usually generates a repeat of the first question as the woman continues to search for some deeper understanding. But the guy is being totally truthful. Nobody, not even we guys, blow themselves up on purpose. We just didn’t think THAT was going to happen.
I thought about these too common kinds of communications as the FAA changes written tests and flight test guides to emphasize risk management. Now the FAA can be your wife, or mother or girlfriend demanding to know “what did you think was going to happen?”
Well, when it comes to flying I obviously think my airplane is capable of handling the situation, and my pilot skills are up to the job or I wouldn’t take off. And that’s what the FAA wants us to think about and carefully consider before each flight. But the bottom line is that unless you are the pilot of a major airline jet here in the U.S. you are also applying a little hope, playing the odds, when you fly because there are risks that are beyond your control.
It’s been almost 12 years since a passenger lost their life in the crash of a U.S. major airliner. And during that same period there have only been two fatal accidents among the regional airline fleet. That record is so close to perfect it’s almost unbelievable.
But the aircraft design, pilot training, and operating requirements that have created that airline safety record would simply destroy personal aviation if we all had to fly the same way. In airline, or even business jet flying, each risk is identified and addressed so that the outcome is not hope to survive the crash. Even when avoidable crashes happen the design features and strength of modern jet airliners make survival likely as we have just seen in the Boeing 777 accident at San Francisco.
To keep personal aviation available and enjoyable we can’t be major airlines and we assume clearly identified risks every time we fly. For example, flying with a single engine involves the obvious possibility of having to make a forced landing. Flying single pilot also has the unavoidable risk that if the only pilot makes a mistake, or becomes incapacitated even momentarily, there is no backup. The list of risks inherent to personal flying that are fully documented and well understood goes on and on and really can’t be eliminated without also eliminating the freedom and accessibility of personal aviation.
So we fly with the hope that the engine won’t quit, and that if it does, we can find a place to safely put the airplane down. But the smart pilot backs up the hope with good maintenance, plenty of reserve fuel and regular practice in making power off approaches. None of those actions eliminates the risk of power loss, but does reduce the risk.
If that “what were you thinking” question ever comes up involving your flying simply replying that you hoped it wouldn’t happen to you won’t cut it. Even though many risks can’t be completely removed from personal flying, there is much we can and must do to push hope and luck to the bottom of the response.
Maybe at the top of every pre-takeoff checklist should be the question “what were you thinking would happen?” If we came up with answers to that question before takeoff we may not ever have to answer it for real. At least not about our flying. For the rest of life’s events that question is also a risk that simply cannot be eliminated.