Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On Risk Management

Here's the thing about being a pilot: (well, one of the things, anyway...) Flying an aircraft is inherently risky. Think about it, nothing in our genetic makeup or history as a species indicates that human beings were meant to fly. And yet, like the stubborn children that we are, we persevere and utilize machines to participate in an activity for which we, as people, are decidedly unsuited.

Sounds risky, right?

That's probably where the stereotype of the arrogant pilot originates. Likewise the crazy pilot, who seems to have a death wish, but manages to keep breathing. These are byproducts of the situation in which man (used as a gender neutral term, here and forever after) does what man is not designed to do: fly.

So the Air Force (and other services, too, in my observation, though I know less about their process) has a policy of "Risk Management". For the record, I find this a Good Thing(tm). I may be a helicopter pilot, and therefore by definition insane; but unlike the stereotype, I don't actually have a death wish. Flying safely is one of my paramount concerns...as it should be. So I appreciate that my training emphasized managing the risks inherent in the business.

But, (and you just knew that there was a 'but' coming, didn't you, Gentle Reader) I've observed a disturbing trend in which Risk Management has become an attempt at Risk Elimination. As I've stated, risk is inherent in the flying business, so you can see why I'm disturbed at attempts to eliminate risk altogether.

Orville and Wilbur, Lindbergh, Billy Mitchell, Jimmy Doolittle...these guys didn't try to eliminate risk, they sought to understand it, to mitigate it where they could and then they accepted what they couldn't mitigate and moved on to make history.

I'm not trying to make history, I'm just trying to do my job. And it's getting increasingly irritating to be told that I can't or shouldn't do that job to the best of my ability simply because it's "too risky".

I'm nobody's cowboy. When it comes to flying, I'm pretty conservative in my "comfort zone". I don't do stupid shit in the helicopter because I want to be an old pilot. You know that old saying? There are old pilots and bold pilots but there are no old, bold pilots. It's probably not entirely true, but the idea is sound. The US taxpayer has paid thousands of dollars to train me to make decisions and mitigate my own risk...and it's frustrating when I'm not allowed to do that.

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