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Safety: Breaking a Rule is Your Decision

Safety requires the decision to follow rules and procedures that will mitigate risk.  Mitigation simply reduces the opportunity for an event that causes injury to people or damage to equipment.  The decision to mitigate risk is influenced by the current situation, but to not follow a safety rule is foolish.  Safety rules are pre-established to reduce risk.  Recently I had a chance to decide to follow the rules.

During a vacation my wife and I hired an instructor and rented a plane to fly the area we were visiting.  Instead of being “checked-out” to fly a rental I will use a local instructor to go along and run the radios and keep me out of trouble.  We showed up at the airport and met the instructor who was a nice guy, pleasant and courteous.  After going through the procedures to clear any TSA issues (drivers license, pilot license, etc.) he introduced me to a new instructor and informed me that he would be riding along with us in the back seat.  Hmmm…

First of all, I was renting an aircraft to tour the area with my wife and I thought it was odd that he would not ask, “Would it be okay for the new instructor to ride along?”  Second, taking a look at the new instructor and doing a quick calculation I thought, “Gross max?”  My wife would not only be in the back seat with a stranger, but also cramped up and unable to take pictures on both sides of the aircraft.  Being the diplomat that I am my next step was to nod.  The instructor handed me the aircraft checkout book and keys and suggested I do the preflight.  Perfect, my first check would be fuel on board.

As soon as I turned the master switch on my course of action was decided.  According to the dash gauge the tanks of the airplane were full.  After a visual check this was confirmed.  As the instructor and his impromptu passenger approached I said, “I need to talk to you guys.”  I informed them both that we would be exceeding the gross takeoff weight by more than 150 lbs by my calculation (I am not a small southerner).  I mentioned that although the aircraft would likely get us airborne I had no desire to fool with nature and become an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) report were by: Three CFIs and a non-pilot passenger were fatally injured shortly after takeoff due to (stupidity) being well over gross weight.

After voicing my concerns the new instructor said, “Well I’m not going if that’s the case.”  He continued, “How many CFIs does it take to calculate a weight and balance?”  I nodded in agreement because I had already made the decision when we were first introduced.  I returned to the aircraft to finish my preflight.

The Wright brothers overcame nature’s little issue of gravity only after many experiments that tested the required lift and thrust to propel a certain about of weight through the air.  Continued experiments tested the balance requirements for stable and controllable flight.  It would benefit us all not to forget the many failures when the Wrights fooled with Mother Nature.

I guess the lesson I would like to pass on to you is, “Don’t let anyone influence you to break safety rules.”  All certified aircraft are tested to be aerodynamically balanced when properly loaded.  Once you figure out how much people and luggage weigh, that will tell you how much fuel you can take.  NTSB reports are made every month about pilots who attempted to make an airplane do more than it is capable of doing.

Industrial safety rules are created because enough people were injured to justify writing the rule.  Organizations spend a lot of time and effort to develop safety processes that can mitigate the risk.  It is every person’s decision to follow the safety rules or not to follow the rules.  As someone who travel’s the world trying to influence people to make the right decision,  I want to challenge you to consider the results of not making the right decision and becoming the subject of your organizations injury report.

Be Safe!



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