Probable Cause #62: Lucky, Or Good?
This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, June 2006.There's something about the typical experienced-pilot's personality that is antithetical to safety. I'm not an expert in analyzing personalities -- though I know what I like -- but it seems the very traits that make someone a "good stick" also make that same skilled pilot a safety risk. Maybe it's the so-called "God complex" often attributed to surgeons who have risen to the top of their specialty. Maybe it's a blasť sense that, having seen and done everything in an airplane that's possible to do, nothing "bad" can happen. Maybe it's just an overdeveloped confidence in one's ability, the basic elements of which are almost mandatory for a pilot to possess. Maybe it's just luck. Regardless, too often the very self-reliance on which pilots can depend is also the trait that gets us into trouble. Those whose role it is to analyze aviation accidents and how psychology and human behaviors contribute to them sometimes boil all this down to "overconfidence." In turn, overconfidence can result from facing the same challenges before and emerging unscathed. Once the first corner is cut, pilots are truly on a slippery slope, unable to stop the slide to whatever fate awaits them. Over a period of time -- whether counted in years or flight hours -- overconfidence can breed contempt for rules, inevitably leading one to bend or break them. After surviving a few bent-rule flights, the idea that they don't really apply to you -- because you're so good, of course -- becomes the new norm. But what if all that skill and derring-do you believe got you through the earlier close calls was really just a dollop of luck? What happens when your luck bucket runs dry? Are you really that good, or just that lucky? There's no way to know how much luck we've been graced in our aviation careers. One thing's for sure: If we depend on it to complete flights, sooner or later our luck will run out. In the meantime, we can always draw on skill and judgment. On which would you rather depend?