Saturday, June 20, 2009

Choose Your Own Misadventure, Part II

A reader sent me this Air Taxi Pilot Decision-Making Simulator. I hate it. I hate it because it's true and accurate and needed. It's hauntingly, terribly familiar. I've been there on almost every branch of every decision tree. For the branches I haven't explored to the end, I have attended the funerals of friends who did. It's even set up so that you can do the wrong thing and still live. Just like real life it means you can get away with something and think you made the right decision, reinforcing that behaviour for next time.

Work your way through the scenarios and then consider what your life is like when this kind of thing is is what you do every day, but the end of the day doesn't bring a neat lecture on lessons learned and the ability to know that you chose the best possible route. All you know at the end of the day is that you survived the decisions you made. You are still being questioned for every decision by your copilot, chief pilot, passengers, room mates and yourself. You don't know if the airplane is misbehaving, if you're incompetent, if every company is like this and this is what the rest of your career will be like, or if you're at the worst company in the world.

I showed it to one pilot who thought it was ridiculous, that the decisions were simple to make and that they were just playing mind games. But it's well-researched and based on a lot of pilots who got caught out in such situations. The scenarios are drawn from real experiences and accident reports, and there are a hundred more they could add. I've always been more likely to ask those questions before departure, but there's a price for that, too. Within your cadre of pilots, asking questions may be perceived as weaker than simply fumbling on in ignorance, even when the people you asked the question of don't know the answer either.

Some people think that flying airplanes is hard, but it really isn't. You learn how in a few hours from watching someone and reading the manual. The hard part is never being complacent, and always deciding what to do when the airplane isn't following the manual.

It's not like that for me these days, but before you have the experience and knowledge it can be. I admire the way aviation safety research has gone beyond understanding why airplanes have accidents and delved into why pilots have accidents, even when they have and understand the information on how not to.


Rob said...

Thanks for this! It is really interesting. I will be posting this on my blog for sure!

It really stops to make you think and remember how thin the line is you walk at times.

Unknown said...

In terms of why pilots have accidents - I used to enjoy a friend's response when he was challenged by annoyed bosses: "Why did you do that!!?" My (non-aviator) friend would reply: "Well I can assure you of this much. I definitely did NOT get out of bed this morning and say to myself, I think I'll go to work and screw up. In other words, I made a mistake!"

Mistakes happen. Accidents are optional.

david said...

I'm impressed -- actually useful training material from Transport Canada! I like the fact that you can have negative consequences even from making the right decision, and vice-versa.

Private owner-pilots face different pressures (we don't have to please a boss, but we have to pay $100s for each possibly-unnecessary maintenance check, get the kids home for school on Monday, etc); however, I think something like this would be useful for us, too.

The decision-making stills they teach in flight training are overly simplistic, and don't stand up to even your first 100 hours of real-life cross-country flying.

Aprenta said...

Well, I took that little test, and from the results I'd guess that I'd be a very safe, unemployed pilot.

Aviatrix said...

I'd call it a demonstration, rather than a test.

david said...

I tried to be honest in my first test, and say what I thought I'd really do as a young, precariously-employed pilot, instead of the answers I thought they were looking for.

In general, I took more risks when I had outs, but backed off when I didn't have outs or thought my judgement might be clouded (e.g. I only took only 5 extra gallons on each side before flying in the medical supplies, but then decided to stay overnight because I was burned out and too many things were wrong).

I didn't get yelled at too much, but I didn't crash or almost crash either. Maybe I should quit computer consulting and move up north ...

Dave Starr said...

Perhaps the most undervalued talent for a pilot is imagination. Or perhaps, 'listening to that little voice'. I would submit that the pilot friend who deemed this tool of little value might want to sit down with her/himslef and think very deeply why so many other pilots, many equally skilled and smart have died in situations very similar ro scenarios in this tool. If there be someone flying out there who can _not_ learn something from this, I'd like to know, so I can avoid flying with him or her.

I like that there are many 'gray' area responses. Not every decision leads directly to getting fired or to meeting the earth prematurely, but all of them are food for thought. Many experienced pilots would have their own response, placed somewhere in between one of the two or three 'canned' answers. That's the way life is, shades of gray.

At least this tool provokes thought and allows for something resembling real life when you can't always just select the 'no risk' response, nut instead have to make responses that are somewhat risky, but safe enough this time.

The FAA have nothing near this good, my hat is off to Transport Canada ... I've read a lot of Transport Canada accident reports lately, and I fancy I can recall an actual accident ot two which contributed to the tool. Useful stuff.

Ron Amundson said...

Whoa... thats far too real. I think I ran into nearly everyone of those my first few years of flying. Sadly, a number of friends are no longer around because of such.

I agree with what David said about the tools used in flight training being far too simplistic, but I'll go one further and add politically correct... Its as if, at least in the US, no one likes to officially talk about the revenue aspect, about the fellow employee ribbing, non std approaches etc, but they are very real.

Paul said...

I gotta say that I never really thought about being employed as a pilot. I have always wanted to, but this little decision making simulation is quite an eye-opener!

I crashed, I got yelled at. I probably got fired. There seems no way out.

No wonder you hate it...

BTW - some of the training material at the AOPA (ASA?) web site is this good. For the purely part 91 pilot, their is some of the best as far as decision-making goes.


Mark Zacharias said...

For anyone else coming through TC has updated there site and at the time of this comment the tool has a new location: Pilot Decision Making Simulator