“‘Being a fairly new pilot I wanted your feedback on my weather decision this morning,’ said my buddy Mark Harris when he phoned. ‘I’m driving from Flagstaff to Lake Havasu City for a meeting. The forecast predicted a 50% chance of snow this afternoon, so I decided not to fly. But after traveling for hours under cloudless skies, I’m wondering whether I screwed up by not flying.’
“‘Takeoff decisions can be tough, especially when you feel pressed to make an appointment,’ I observed. ‘No one’s immune. Just last Saturday Jean and I planned to fly to Tucson to see visiting relatives. Like today, the morning was clear. But with a storm forecast to threaten Flagstaff by evening, I canceled. When the skies were still clear at bedtime, I kicked myself for not going. The next morning, however, we awoke to two feet of snow; had it arrived earlier, we’d have been stranded for days. So in retrospect my decision was good. I suspect yours was, too.’
“At the Flagstaff Airport that afternoon, flight school owner Orville Wiseman lamented a recent accident where a well-regarded pilot took off into difficult weather. The accident report suggested that during trying economic times the pilot anticipated signing a highly desired business contract at his destination meeting. The circumstances reminded me of my own most difficult takeoff decision ever…”
Photo: Lake Havasu City Airport, Arizona. Sometimes it’s wisest to stay on the ground.
Read the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, NTSB Probable Cause and NTSB Factual Accident reports on the aircraft accident that stimulated this column. And the NTSB Probable Cause and NTSB Factual report detailing the density-altitude-related accident described later in the story.
©2013 Gregory N. Brown