Becoming Intimate with Safety at 5000 Feet

Passed PPL CheckrideI recently completed flight training to become certified as a Private Pilot.  This has been a life-long dream for me and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to pursue it.  Before I go further I have to thank Nick Zink, my flight instructor at Suburban Aviation in Lambertville MI.  Nick is a patient, highly knowledgable and friendly Certified Flight Instructor who helped me immensely.  He is a passionate aviation professional who excels at bringing the best out of his students.  I enthusiastically recommend him, and Suburban, to any aspiring aviators who are ready to get serious about flight training.

The feeling of soaring up and into the sky with your own hand and mind controlling the magical instrument that makes it happen is like no other.  The thrill of spinning up the prop and lifting off the runway is a unique rush.  Once I get airborne it’s as if I have left all my cares behind on the ground.  Gravity pulls them away from me.  My total focus in on flying the plane well.  The first night flight was under a full moon and was perhaps the most serene and peaceful activity of my adult life.

I love the complexity that comes with flying safely and competently.  It takes some serious knowledge, focus and physical skill to be a pilot.  All can be learned but you have to dedicate yourself to it.  I am sure I have much more to learn and sincerely appreciate gems of experience gained from pilots with more flight time.  I am looking forward to my continued learning to be a good pilot.

With all that said, I wrote this blog post to comment on what else I learned from this experience.  As an EHS professional I have built my career around expert knowledge of the entire spectrum of EHS subjects, some deeper that other of course.  But it was during these flying lessons that I was in situations where I had to execute critical safety processes as part of an integrated set of tasks.  In other words, I had to walk the talk…

First and foremost I learned that a significant part of flight safety for pilots is keen risk based decision-making.  It is constantly emphasized through the training process.  The process the FAA has developed to teach the concept is Aeronautical Decision Making or ADM.  ADM is a systematic approach to the mental process used by pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances.  It involves the identification, assessment and mitigation of risk factors in the pilot, aircraft, environment and external pressure areas of a specific flight situation.

The next thing I learned with the power of checklists.  Yes, they take some time —deal with it!  It’s a small investment in success.  In aviation there is a checklist for everything.    I quickly learned why.  There is much to remember and any interruption creates the opportunity to miss an item that comes back to bite you later.  A friend of mine recently showed me the preflight checklist for a B-52 on which he was the navigator.  It’s over a hundred pages long!  In aviation checklists are used primarily as verification tools.  “Verification” refers to the confirmation of the condition of equipment or accuracy of documents consistent with the requirements of the governing documents.

The final takeaway I’ll highlight here is the value of preparation.  It is incredibly important to know about your aircraft, airport procedures and proper upset condition procedures.  In order to execute the actions correctly, and at the right time, you must do more than read about them.  Hands on practice with repetition is a necessary.

I am going to wrap this post up.  We will talk more about these and other concepts from aviation that may have application in the occupational environment.  In the meantime, I’ll be in the wild blue yonder learning more.

About Chet Brandon

I am a highly experienced Health, Safety and Environmental Professional for Fortune 500 Companies. I love the challenge of ensuring HSE excellence in process, manufacturing and other heavy industry settings. The connection of EHS to Sustainability is a fascinating subject for me. I believe that the future of industrial organizations depends on the adoption of sustainable practices.
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