Monday, July 7, 2014

Learn from the Mistakes of Others: You’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself!

That’s the watchword for aviation. As a professional pilot for over 36 years, I've always read all the accident reports trying to absorb the pertinent details for use in flight and on the ground.  I even keep a list of “gotchas” to remind me, in the heat of battle, to pay attention to seemingly small details which can lead to disaster.

While cleaning up a seemingly minor spill during a routine flight from Houston to LAX  my own clumsiness made me remember the tragedy that resulted from a spilled cup of coffee on the instrument pedestal (“Fate is the Hunter” by Ernie Gann) when I fumbled my water bottle squirting liquid over a panel that controls our map display.  It made a mess of my screen, crowding the display with unwanted GPS fixes as we descended into the LAX metro area.  Upon landing I called our maintenance techs and ‘fessed up, describing my faux pas and the type of liquid involved. such details can be of real importance in helping the tech staff fix problems that can be, if the substance involved contains sugar, a major headache.

More recently, I asked for more fuel for a particular flight and :15 later realized I’d read the flight plan wrong, mistaking one number for another.  I quickly cancelled my request for additional gas which saved everyone time, money and hassles. 

As a Critical Incident Response Volunteer (CIRP), I’ve heard many stories that crowd my brain whenever a similar situation arises, from not ensuring that the push tug is well clear of the airplane before we begin to taxi to ignoring a little “pop” noise from a circuit breaker. 

Mess up? Fess up.  That’s the corollary to “learn from the mistakes of others.”  Hiding mistakes can be deadly and given the immense amount of brownie points we get from admitting them, there’s no reason not to use them as learning tools. Mistakes can be your best friends if you’ll learn quickly from them and use the knowledge wisely in the future.