Recently a group of aviators celebrated the fact that none of them had ever had an accident which they attributed to their philosophy “if in doubt, there is no doubt – don’t go.”Whilst I appreciate that this is a laudable idea, I have to confess that I’d rarely get off the ground if this was my practice. I find that the decision “to commit aviation” is frequently not clear-cut, which I suppose indicates that I do harbour some doubt.
What I do have no doubt about is that there must always be an acceptable alternative – a Plan B. So that for me, the critical issue is when to abandon Plan A for Plan B. It is here that the danger lies with the temptation to keep going on the original course of action too long. Often one can make the decision in advance of the flight and it is important to adhere to this when airborne. If you’ve decided to turn back if the cloud base drops below 2000ft, then don’t go on when it is gradually lowering below that level. If 8km visibility represents your personal minimum (and it’s quite a sensible figure) turn back and land as soon as you are able if you find it’s less.* As an instructor (and examiner!) I’m much happier with the pilot who reports “I didn’t like the look of it so I came back” than the triumphant “The conditions were awful but I forced on and completed the trip”.
In summary – reduce the hazards of a flight by good preparation and be certain that if you can see the possibility of encountering a difficulty during flight, you have an alternative plan which you adhere to if it should arise.
*Incidentally, the sunny weather of late September produced widespread METARS giving CAVOK but as I said in a previous piece, this does not take account of the effect of flying into a lowering sun. On one trip I did in CAVOK conditions late afternoon, the forward viz. was less than 2000 metres and the sensible pilot turned East and headed for home. This was her Plan B.