Lately, I’ve been asked by a bevy of first officers to talk about issues that I think are important to upgrade training. This makes me happy for various reasons. One, people are upgrading. Two, someone values my opinion. Three, and most importantly, these pilots are interested in safety. A conscientious, well-intentioned pilot is always a good thing, if you ask me,
So, what do I tell them? The number-one issue to me for an upgrade pilot is weather and the knowledge and decision making that goes along with it. This should come as no surprise from the person writing under the column title, “Squall Line.”
Having a healthy respect for weather is a great trait for any pilot which leads to other good things. One such thing is the desire for knowledge. The other is humility in the face of something as powerful as nature. I believe knowledge combined with humility can contribute to one’s longevity.
Your turn to use the parking brake!
When you upgrade to captain, many things will change. While I won’t get into all that changes, I will say that the most pertinent issue to new captains lurks in the clouds. From the very birth of your “go, no go” decision, to the decisions you make in the air (where there is no pause button), you are the one responsible. In my opinion, your respect and knowledge of not only the science of weather but how to deal with it, becomes a most important element.
Aside from a flight cancellation, when has inclement weather made anyone’s day better? Poor weather complicates everything. Fatigue, maintenance, poor CRM, system knowledge, you name it – are all exacerbated by lousy weather. When you sit in the left seat for the first of many times, all of these things will combine to test your mettle. Be ready.
A checklist … of sorts.
I’ve listed a few things here that pertain to weather in general and some more specifically that I suggest you become aware of. This list is not all-inclusive and is not to be considered my advice. Simply, it’s a list of things that I feel are most pertinent to your new frontier in the left seat.
- Check the weather! Remember how many times as a first officer you poured over the weather map? Well, it’s all yours now.
- Learn about the weather. Read books.
- Learn about weather radar. Learn about weather radar. Then, learn about weather radar!
- If I told you how many times FO’s wanted to avoid cities that they thought were weather returns, I’d lose my job.
- Weather radar can be the absolute and most unequivocally important safety device in an airplane. Your knowledge of it is paramount.
- If you are not motivated enough to learn more about weather radar than what you were taught in the training center, consider going for a walk in the Grand Canyon at night, with a flashlight pointed behind you. Keep walking. See my point?
- Learn to take it slowly. It’s your decision now. You’ll probably look back on a few flights that you wish you hadn’t gone or delayed. Keep those experiences to a minimum. Gate agents don’t drop the parking brake. You do. If you rush, you will miss something you wish you hadn’t.
- Good decisions don’t come with applause and accolades. They usually come with criticism and complaints. Bad decisions can come with you making the 6 o’clock news. Decide which scenario you prefer.
Weather is the predominant entity that exerts its control over all of us. It can be rather tame and thus permit us to make other cockpit related decisions with relative ease. Conversely, it can make decision making entirely difficult. When you’re fresh “out of the box,” the weather is going to be lousy constantly. Trust me. It was for all of us. You are no different. Get a leg up on this proverbial dragon with some valuable reading.
Having a good grip on weather through academic knowledge, pre-flight planning and a healthy respect for the powers from above can add to your success as a new captain. My contributions to ACN thus far and into the future are my token effort to acquaint you with the perils of weather, so stay tuned. See you in a month!