Safety Briefings

February 2020 Safety Bulletin

by Charlie Marais


February 2020


Flying is slowly increasing the pace and a fourth flying school in the circuit leads to higher volumes and possible congestion.  Please keep the circuits in the Tempe circuit and avoid airline downwind, it really brings down the performance we desire.


The one thing we all have in common is the freedom of choice.  This in itself stems from the reason that there is more than one option, and in almost all cases, this is so. Having a choice between two good and possibly favorable options is sometimes difficult, but not crucial as the outcome would not be detrimental, but at worst less favorable than the best option.

It is when we are faced with more than one an option where one is according to the rules and regulations, norms and values, and the other contrary to the mentioned references, that consequence becomes negotiated.

Yes, normally acting outside the prescribed and proven correct required behavior leaves the outcome to chance.  History has shown that when we are left over to the whims of chance, we are initially lured into a false sense of security, but inevitably, the table turns.  It is not if, but rather only a question when our "luck" runs out.

Aristotle, around 350BC, in his Treatise on Political Ethics noted our strange behavior in making choices.  He noted that even when we know clearly the difference between right and wrong, or good and bad, and with sufficient knowledge of the possible risk or negative outcome to act contrary to the norm, standard operating procedure (SOP), we elect to operate outside the clear and accepted way.  He noted this as "lust".  As I understand this is the lust for power, money, excitement, sex, the perceived saving of time, and at times just to be otherwise.

This same Aristotle noted in his formulation for clear and precise argument, that there are three ''Truths'' that must make for a point of departure when one enters into rational discussion or argument.  The first Truth he cited as a Fact and it is the Fact of existence.  This means we do not argue about whether we do exist, we are not in the "Matrix", we really are human with all human factors applicable to us all.  We can only run this fast, multiplex to a certain degree, cognitively be so agile and physically end up all in the grave.  As it was once noted in the London Times; "No one will get out of the life alive".  Yes, we all die, but the trick is it should be rather of old age and not of foolish self-indulgence.

The second Truth he stated as the Principle of non-contradiction.  This one is quite clear; you cannot contradict your own argument, belief system, accepted SOPs, and so on.  Rational argument does not mean you cannot change your mind, rather it means that we may indeed do so when faced with superior argument.

The third Truth was that of a Condition that we have the knowledge of Right/Wrong, Correct/Incorrect, Good/Bad.  If you do not have this knowledge, you cannot partake in rational discussion, and for that matter, behavior.

OK, so what does this mean?  Well, firstly we must make peace with the fact that we are not superhuman and that wrong behavior leads to us bleeding, mentally, physically or financially.  It is simply a case of cause and effect.  As long as you operate outside the Law, the Law will creep up and catch up.  This is when you hit the mountain after so many years of scud running, so many years of cutting corners, bad fuel planning, risky behavior that you thought made you macho and attractive to the others.  Well, sorry, you can only impress the uninformed, the uneducated, the unsophisticated and the ignorant.  No you cannot cheat nature or your makeup, or for that matter, the informed.

When facing the second Truth, why is it that you profess one course of action but pursue another?  You are contradicting yourself every time that you know the correct SOP, but elect to do your own version.  Constantly getting yourself to the level where you believe your own miss-aligned doings as in fact superior and correct.  You are arrogant, vain, and definitely not professional. The wheel does turn.

When it comes to the third Truth, why is it that you have the knowledge of what you may and may not do, you have the knowledge of your qualifications and what those qualifications enable and authorize you to do, yet, when it comes to what suits you, you are acting against all good knowledge.  You unnecessary fly low, enter clouds illegally, unprepared and untrained, do no proper flight planning, let your rating lapse, and so on.

We know the score, mountains lots, humans' nil. Remember, your machine, the environment out there and for that matter even God does not respect you.  Respect is initiated at the self-level.  Only if you have proven self-respect, then we can trust you to respect others, trust you to respect nature and the environment, and finally God.  No, I am not getting religious on you or me, just the bare facts.

So how do I know that you respect yourself?  Simply by your behavior.  Only if you give yourself the best chance of survival and the best chance of success, respect becomes evident.  These are only achieved by applying the proven truths of life, the accepted and verified SOPs, the accepted norms, and values.

Yes, if you want to change it, there is a process.  Give it to those who are schooled to train aviators, trained to do accident analyses and investigation, trained to expand the flight envelope, trained to handle whatever you think is possible.

Finally, you know by now that all the rules have been written in pure aviator's blood.  Sorry, yours is not required anymore; we only need your honesty, integrity, professionalism, and adherence to our code of alignment with the SOP!


The previous topic was Choice, but Habit to the contrary.  Habit actually leaves you with no choice. Many will now have their hands up and say that this is not true.  Well, let us explore this fundamental human design feature.

The first human behavior to explore is how our learning process works.  The aspirant pilots, SPL, and young qualified pilots must especially pay attention now.

The first time we enter into a new area of learning, we have to first attain knowledge and then the skills to apply this knowledge. Think back to when you first had the urge to get involved in flying.  I grew up in Stellenbosh and the only aircraft I ever saw were those that passed on the horizon.  When I became interested in becoming a pilot, I was literally consciously and subconsciously unaware.  In plain English, I was so uninformed that I did not even know that which I did not know! When I started communicating my desire to a person with knowledge about the flying game, he informed me, much to my distress, that which I did not know. It was a lot, in fact, it was everything. This is the 'making aware of the conscious mind' and as we read subject information, hear the SOP's and study; we are enlightening the conscious mind.

Suggestion: Through the learning and practice of new information (for example the difficult sums involved in navigation, radio aids, etc. for mock exams), we build long term memory through repetition. During the repetition of new knowledge through learning and practicing our mock exams such as the difficult sums involved in navigation, radio aids, and instruments, we also are busy building long term memory.  This has an influence on the conscious as well as the subconscious mind.  When we especially repeatedly exercise to hone our skills, such as landings, lookout, applying SOPs diligently, and practice good processes, we are forming good habits.  This resides in the subconscious.  Thus, a habit is something that we do without a rational conscious process in order to decide what to do, prior to actually doing it.  Habit means we just do it.

Here's the thing; the subconscious mind cannot discriminate between right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable, and unacceptable.  The subconscious can only form referencing to the inputs it receives.  So, when practicing an SOP in a non-efficient way or for that matter any skill not according to best practice, the continual reinforcement of this wrong the behavior will be habit-forming.

I believe that when you do the "wrong" thing for more than three times, that habit-forming has begun.  Let me give you an example.  Through all the airplane and helicopter tests that I conduct, the one thing that is common to most tests is the non-existence of 'lookout'.  "Perform a 360° hover or spot turn to the left"' I would say.  Immediately and without hesitation the candidate would commence with the turn.  I then stop and repeat the request and by the third time the candidate is completely annoyed, frustrated, and thinks me to be senile and confused, or just a pain in the butt. I then remind the person that lookout proceeds and is crucial to safety, especially as the tail and main rotor strike make out up to 60% of helicopter accidents.  Pilots who taxi aircraft into something, fly into other aircraft and so on, contribute to many unhappy endings, which makes 'lookout' a fundamental requirement for the safe application of any air vehicle, whether on the ground or in the air. 

"Ok, maybe you are one of those people who do not look out before you turn your car.", I would say, and the response would normally be the test candidate questioning whether I am out of my mind. Naturally they look out; it is inconceivable that one would not lookout before turning a car.  Really? "But, Uncle Charlie, the airport is clear, the air is clear, I cannot hear anyone else talking...", is the normal response.  For this I have the following question; "So when will you then do a 'lookout'?" One response I received about a year ago shocked me; "When it is necessary!" Wow! Now how does this one compute?  The trigger to the necessity of anything you need to do if not through habit, is to get information through your senses.  So, the necessity to 'lookout' is preceded by the actual function of looking out!  Awareness is not a natural state of mind, it is an achieved result.

This is the reason why 'lookout' must be a habitual function and not a conscious decision (when or where to do it.  Just DO it.)  If you learn this habit, you will never ever have to spend time pondering, whether you just did this or that. No, not the habit to say the rhyme, but the habit to DO the rhyme.

This applies to everything we as pilots do.  Start to shortcut the pre-flight and nothing bad happens, and before you know, you have adapted to the new, shorter version, fully suckered into the false belief that there will be no consequence as there have been none in the past...until now.

We build habits over the course of years and the only truth is this:  When you do what is wrong, it is not a question of "if" this will lead to a less desirable outcome, it is rather "when".  We do scud running and always get away with it.  We do VFR on top and always find a hole to descend at the destination to stay VFR as we are not Instrument Rated or CURRENT.  We always push on below the bad weather and we always know or find out where the gap in the mountain or valley is where we can go through to our destination.  In other words, we always consult the clever negotiator of fate; the one who does it "my way" and sells it as the gospel. The one who is a good cheater. We got away with stopping the tachometer, with doing an inferior servicing, inferior planning, inferior, inferior, and inferior!

Now for the bad part; the professional pilots amongst us dare not comment on the above mentioned.  In fact, we will not, as it is none of our business and we do not want to be known as 'a pain in the ass'. We do not want to make enemies, but we are happy to have a friend die a friend, but not live as an enemy. And the inevitable happens... that which we all predicted (as we all had foreknowledge of the worst-case scenario), as we have had so many examples and blood that preceded the 'pain in the butt' SOPs. 

Of course they were nice guys.  Of course, we are all going to say that they were very "professional" pilots.  Sorry guys, but being nice and flattery does not cut it.  Remember, when you are gone, it is no more your concern, but the loved ones who are left behind. It is (and always must be) about them that we look after ourselves, anything else is selfish. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not the one who has never done wrong, not even close.  I probably have more t-shirts than the average guy when it comes to those t-shirts that you do not want.  That I am alive, to tell the truth, is grace or luck, but not because I have outperformed the odds.  So I am not preaching here, I am merely confessing and pleading that one should just stop and look in the mirror. Ask that person you see in the mirror to be honest with you, just for this one time, and acknowledge the skeletons in your cupboard.  Once acknowledged, the corrective action of weaning yourself off of the old, bad habits and developing new, good habits can begin.

Correcting the wrong is never easy, but once you acknowledge the correct way and practice it to habit level, it is easy to follow through. No, the outcome is never guaranteed, but good habits will always give you a better chance at a successful outcome.  That my friend, you can never dispute!

Till next time, happy landings and chopper pilots...keep the revs up!

Ladies @ Work: Flying is definitely not work, but a proper pre-flight could be challenging.

Men @ Work: Flying may not be real work, but taking a solo bath is at quite another level.