Multitasking is accepted as a given in our modern, technology driven society. Anyone with a teenager has shaken their heads at the sight of their child doing homework while listening to music at a loud volume through earplugs, and at the same time carrying on multiple texting conversations and surfing the internet. While a multi-core computer can perform multiple tasks simultaneously, people only have one brain. Since multitasking is becoming so prevalent, it has been thought that some people are especially good at multitasking, or that people get better at it over time as they get used to doing several things at the same time. Others thought that multitaskers were actually really good at switching rapidly from one task to another, so that it appeared that they were doing two or more things at once.

A study from Stanford University has shown that this is not true. Stanford professor of sociology Clifford Nass, along with associates Eyal Ophir and Anthony Wagner, decided to investigate what it was that gave multitaskers the ability to do what they do. The researchers assembled two groups of people. One group included people who regularly did lots of multitasking, while the other group did very little multitasking. The first experiment tested the subjects ability to ignore extraneous information and focus only on what was important. The research team was surprised to discover that while those that did not multitask had no problem successfully completing the exercise, the multitaskers were very distracted by extraneous information.

Next the researchers decided to test whether multitaskers were better at storing and organizing information. Once again the multitaskers failed miserably, while the control group did fine. The researchers were not going to give up that easily. They figured that if multitaskers were not good at filtering out extraneous information and could not organize their memories better, maybe they were better at switching between tasks faster than others but they found that the control group not used to multitasking outperformed the subjects with lots of multitasking experience.

Basically, the researchers found that when presented with many sources of information, the multitaskers found it difficult to filter out irrelevant information, focus in on certain information or keep things separate in their minds. This is in line with other research that has shown multitasking results in a strong negative impact on performing even simple tasks, slows people down, and results in more mistakes.

For those whose work involves tracking multiple sources of information and/or managing multiple systems and controls, it doesn’t take much to be overwhelmed to the point that critical information is missed or critical actions are neglected or done incorrectly. A conscious effort to reduce multitasking to the minimum necessary by meticulous planning, accomplishing everything possible before getting into a high-pressure situation, and blocking insignificant inputs can pay huge dividends in effectiveness, safety and peace of mind.

You have just entered the Accident Zone! How’s your stuff?

You might well ask, “What do you mean by stuff”?  Good question.

In the context of this article, stuff refers to a part of our Error Prevention training where we discuss your mental and physical capacity to do your job at any given point in time.

Moreover, the more stuff you have at any moment, the more likely that you will do your job well and without making a mistake.

Something happens to all of us during the day.  Our stuff diminishes due to factors like fatigue, stress and lack of nourishment.

Consider this typical day and how our stuff is affected:

We awake after a good night’s sleep and our stuff is in pretty good shape.  We eat breakfast and increase our stuff.  We haven’t thought much about the tasks ahead, so our stuff stays high.  We could be successful doing just about any task at this point of the day.

And then things start happening.  We need to drop the kids off at school on our way to work and our daughter is running late.  We have an important meeting first thing in the morning, so we rush a little bit on the way to school and definitely on the way to work.  Stress is building, and our stuff is decreasing.  We are taking chances that we would normally not take.

As we go through the morning at work, tasks come and go, our nourishment is decreasing and so is our stuff.  We still have enough stuff to do our job well, but we need to increase it for the afternoon.  When we have lunch, we boost our stuff.

Then comes a surprise deadline on a task that of which you were unaware. This is on top of our other jobs, so our stress starts to increase significantly, and our stuff decreases rapidly.  We are in a situation where the tasks we need to get done require more stuff than we have.  We are in a Mistake/Accident Zone.

We somehow get through the Zone without incident and are pretty low on stuff when we drive home.  Perhaps the drive is pleasant and uneventful, so we relax a bit and our stuff increases. And we can handle the evening dinner and family activities just fine.

Our stuff fluctuates during the day.  It happens to all of us.

But remember that Mistake/Accident Zone?  That is a risky place to be.  It is where calculation, programming, executive planning, clerical, and sales mistakes are made.  It is where machinery breaks, products get produced incorrectly fires and explosions occur, people get injured or worse.

Wouldn’t it be good to check your stuff when you sense that you are entering the Mistake/accident Zone?  You can.

You can us a handy checklist that we call IMSAFE.

I = Illness

M= Medication

S= Stress

A= Alcohol/Drug

F = Fatigue

E = Eating or Emotion

If you’re well-rested, well-fed, and not taking any medication for a cold/flu, and you don’t experience any surprises, you’re probably going to navigate through the Mistake/Accident Zone pretty well.

On the other hand, if you are experiencing a bit of flu, taking medication containing alcohol, haven’t eaten well and didn’t sleep well, you better be extra cautious in the Zone.

If you use the IMSAFE checklist when you sense that your stuff is low, you might just avoid a serious mistake or accident.

So – again – How’s YOUR Stuff?

What if We Didn’t Have to Work with Other People?

No more time wasted in boring meetings!

No more listening to boring stories!

No disagreements!

We could just do, whatever…

For most working people that is not the reality.  We must learn to work effectively with our co-workers, management, contractors, vendors and many others through the course of a day.  Often, putting us in difficult or challenging circumstances that may cause tension, errors and even accidents.

That is where the Error Prevention Training Institute (EPTI) can help.

We have the world’s best human error prevention methodology, proven and validated by thousands of people, over decades and the WORLD’s leading organizations. Do you want to find out more about how it works?

We offer an online course that we recommend to all employees to create a common language and understanding of the Error Prevention methodology. We highly recommend pairing this with PIC and Executive training to gain buy in to the approach across the organization. That can be offered in multiple ways depending on the needs and preference of your organization.

We can help design a solution that works for you.  We have exciting new options on how to deliver our proven practices (mobile app, marketing material, onsite and online classes for the enterprise or individual learner, custom video, simulation development and many others.

We have an amazing 30 minute demo that provides an overview of the training and what it can mean for your organization.  We highly recommend that as a starting point for your teams to begin to work more effectively together while reducing errors, incidents and accidents.

Contact us today to schedule a web conference demonstration.


“Safety Chats,” Waste of Time?

Every month or two, we seem to learn of a human error that either costs corporations or individuals millions; or, worse, causes severe injury or death.  It seems that, as intelligent people, we would learn from all these errors and be able to change the way we go about tasks – change the way we behave – so that these errors would be greatly reduced.

But they just keep happening.  Why?

Perhaps looking at how we approach the subject of workplace health and safety gives us a clue. After all, safety is supposed to be a commonly understood goal that everyone wants, right?

One aspect of the term “safety” means that no one gets injured and that certainly is a goal we want.  So, companies invest in people and programs that move the company toward the goal that no one gets hurt.

Various training programs are used to raise employee awareness of how they are supposed to use tools, clothing equipment and procedures to avoid injury.  The Department of Labor, OSHA and other agencies have produced tons of training programs.

Work teams are encouraged to conduct safety moments – also called a safety minute, safety brief, or safety chat—on a regular basis as an important element of a comprehensive workplace safety plan. This is a way to reinforce that health and safety are a top priority in the workplace and develop a strong safety culture.

Even though strong people are put in place to manage health and safety programs and good tools are used, injuries keep happening.  To be sure, it might be encouraging to know that the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a gradual decrease every year from 5.0 injuries per 100 employees in 2003 to 2.9 injuries per 100 employees in 2016.

But are we okay with 3% of our workforce being injured? 

What’s more, the statistics – and most Health and Safety programs – do not include accidents that result in equipment or product injury which can be enormously expensive for the company’s financial health.

So, what’s missing?

Consider the common reaction of a workforce to the words “Safety Chat.”  Some readily embrace it, yet many will consider it a waste of time because they believe that they inherently behave in a self-safe manner and that they know how to follow operating instructions and labels.

The latter group considers the “chat” as a bunch of people talking about danger without actually doing anything that seems concrete or relevant to the latter group.  “Kumbyah” comes to mind.

What is missing is a gut-level tie to human factors that put people in a mistake/accident zone.  Using safety goggles in no way relates to how a person might be able to perform a task.  Is the person sick, under excess stress at home, under pressure to leave work early to get to a child’s soccer game, etc?  Is the person impulsive, feeling invulnerable, showing off, etc.?  Has a manager changed a deadline or quota?

What are the Human Factors?

None of these human factors are taken into account in a typical safety chat because chats involve materials and procedures.

In addition, chats are often inconsistent from team to team.  The lexicon used in chats are often different too.  As a result, chats seem to resolve concerns about equipment and procedures but do not effectively provide a vehicle to discussing human factors.

Therefore, we see that the paths people take after a chat that does not include human factors frequently result in an accident happening anyway.  When accidents occur after chats, the validity and relevance of chats diminishes and are often abandoned.

EPTI has developed a simple yet easy to use discussion tool for “safety chats called AESOP™.”  It highlights each of the key areas that an individual or team should consider for establishing a safe error free working environment.  It puts some meat on the bone so that everyone has the same productive agenda for the “safety chat” which is now called “doing a quick AESOP!  More on AESOP™ in the next blog.

Learn from your mistakes… or repeat them?

Human Error Prevention behavior contributes maximum benefits to an organization when it becomes part of the organization’s culture.  That is, everyone uses the tools and lexicon of error prevention as part of their mode of operation.  In addition, in an error prevention culture, everyone shares stories about mistakes that happen or are avoided – without fear of negative reprisal – so that others can learn organically.

In order to achieve the ongoing success – and, hence, the benefits of error prevention behavior – it is important for executives, supervisors and employees to operate in a “Just Culture” environment.

What is a Just Culture?

  • One that supports the discussion of errors so that lessons can be learned from them.
  • One in which frontline staff feel comfortable in disclosing errors including their own while maintaining professional accountability.

It is a fundamental truth that good organizations cannot operate without accountability.  Does this notion of No Blame threaten this business truth of Accountability?

Well, no, the two are actually complementary.

Accountability typically involves examining the technical reasons for a success or mistake.  Often times this is called Root Cause analysis and is applied to examining why a mistake was made.  Root Cause analysis seeks to find that singular reason for a mistake or inefficiency so that corrective procedures or “things” can be applied in the future to avoid the same mistake or inefficiency.  Many times, the result is that a person is held accountable and is reprimanded or fired for making a mistake.

Accountability based on a singular cause rarely includes the notion that root causes might exist.  The additional causes just might be human factors that are not considered in most root cause analysis.

A No Blame culture simply means that, before coming to the conclusion to reprimand or fire an employee, human factors are examined too.  The conclusion might very well be that an employee loses their job, but at least the whole situation has been examined before that conclusion is reached.  But, a different more positive conclusion could be that the human factors that were in play provide an insight/reason that exonerates the employee and, indeed provides an opportunity for the company to learn what to do about a human factor situation in the future.

The following story perfectly illustrates how Accountability and No Blame work together.

Medication administration errors are a problem in hospitals.  One hospital established a policy – based on factors such as legal, insurance cost and hospital reputation – that, as the final person involved with administering medication, a nurse who administered the wrong medication was held accountable and was immediately terminated.

After the Chief Nursing Officer became aware of the No Blame approach, she began asking human factor questions before making a termination decision.  Soon enough, an administration error happened, and the RN was called into the Chief Nursing Officers office.

The RN fully expected to lose her job.

The CNO asked about the human factors and discovered that the RN’s were under extraordinary stress and were fatigued by working excessive hours with reduced staff.  The RN’s frequently missed meals due to their workloads so their decision making was jeopardized.

The CNO did not fire the RN but rather thanked her for being honest about her situation.  The CNO determined that the hospital needed to increase staff and be innovative about the work hours for the staff.

Medication administration errors went down, and nurse terminations were greatly reduced.

On can conclude that blending Accountability with No Blame is a powerful way to generate a culture that is more efficient and profitable.  With the added benefit that the organization does not lose valuable human assets unnecessarily.





Human Error Prevention – Should we train everyone?

Why is Error Prevention training necessary for everybody in the company?  The question is logical because Error Prevention is most easily seen as having a direct tie to Safety and Manufacturing – traditional touch labor – and not so much to departments such a Finance, Sales, IT and even Senior Staff.

Easily understood because errors in a Safety or Manufacturing context are visible and tangible.  Someone experiences an injury, or a product contains faults.

Safety and Manufacturing errors are investigated, tracked and reported; whereas errors in Finance, Sales, IT and Senior staff are not (usually).  Therefore, establishing justification and benefit analysis for error prevention initiatives is easier to do based on the empirical data available from EH & S and Manufacturing (Quality) operations.

And yet, all departments communicate with each other.  So if some departments speak and act with an error prevention language and behavior while others do not, communication is not optimal.

For example, Error Prevention training teaches that making a good assertive statement is necessary when one member of a team or group wants the rest of the team to stop and examine a potential error-likely situation before proceeding.  Most often, when an assertive statement is made properly, the group will take the time to examine the situation.  But, sometimes the group does not stop.  Yet the concerned person continues to feel very strongly that the group should.  At that point the concerned person uses a phrase meant to startle the group and convey strong feelings about potential error – a phrase such as “This is Stupid!”

In time, people who practice error prevention behavior come to expect assertive statements and know that they are good and productive triggers that lead to a quick method for examining a situation using error prevention tools.  Assertive statements are not offensive in an error prevention conversation.  The statements actually foster open discussion and either an error is prevented, or the process continues with confidence.

Imagine how a conversation goes between people who have had error prevention training and people who have not.  Imagine how an assertive statement would affect the person who was not trained.

One of two outcomes are likely.  The non-trained person hears the statement without error prevention context and reacts negatively or the trained person will not make the statement out of fear of negative reaction.  In either case, a productive conversation does not happen, and no error prevention takes place.

In most productive companies, effective interdepartmental communication is vital.  Most Senior Staff members want to communicate well with departments in order to make good executive decisions.  Error Prevention training for all departments contributes to effective interdepartmental communication and reduces costs associated with mistakes at the same time.

One can see also that Error Prevention behavior and conversations affect one’s personal life as well.  Imagine a conversation between spouses wherein only one spouse has learned error prevention.  How would the non-trained spouse react to hearing “This is Stupid”.  One would guess that the rest of the conversation would be off-topic.




©Jay Hopkins – All rights reserved

Originally published in Flying July, 1997

Every pilot who has been flying for any length of time knows the feeling. Your mouth suddenly gets incredibly dry. A cold, clammy sweat coats your skin. Your mind seems frozen even as it races through a dwindling list of ways to get out of your dilemma. Deep in your churning gut lies the regret for every stupid decision you made that brought you to this moment of truth. Any number of situations can produce this reaction: fuel indicators bouncing on empty with no airport in the vicinity, clouds closing in around the non-instrument rated pilot, the first glimmer of ice on the windshield in a plane without anti-ice capability.

The amount of fear elicited by a particular situation varies greatly between different individuals. Some people seem to experience no fear at all. They face every crisis with the same detached, professional manner. Their tone of voice doesn’t even seem to change, no matter how serious the problem is. At the other extreme there are those who start having an anxiety attack as soon as the possibility of a problem intrudes into their thought process. This difference between individuals is very evident to flight instructors. Some students do not get excited by anything, in fact the more “hairy” the flying the better they like it. The instructor could go right into an accelerated stall or even aerobatics on the first flight and they would be asking for more. Others need to be lead gently into each new adventure. Even a simple straight ahead, power-off stall is unnerving, and many of these stalls must be accomplished before advancing to turning or accelerated stalls.

Neither of these extremes is particularly good. Some nervousness and even fear is normal when a person is introduced to something which has an element of danger to it. The pilot who shows absolutely no hesitation or fear during training is more likely to blunder into dangerous situations when they get off on their own. They have no respect for the risks involved in aviation. On the other hand, students who do not quickly lose their nervousness as they practice a maneuver have a deep seated anxiety which could make it very difficult for them to handle any sort of a problem or emergency in flight.

The types of anxiety or fear we experience in the cockpit vary greatly also. Most people are at least a little nervous before and during a flight test or checkride. This is a normal reaction because we want to do well and we don’t want to let our instructor down or be embarrassed in front of the examiner. This slight case of nervousness can actually sharpen our senses and help us to be more alert to what is going on around us.

One of my students who busted their checkride actually had been flying without supervision for many years before he came to me to finish the necessary dual requirements and prepare for the checkride. Because he had so many hours he felt that he was definitely a cut above the normal student. While I was not worried about his flying ability when I signed him off for his date with the examiner, I was worried that he was so self-assured. As he departed on the first leg of the cross country portion of the checkride, he was so impressed with his own flying ability he failed to recognize that he was headed 180 degrees from the desired course. Even when the examiner gave him a few hints that something was wrong, he completely failed to pick up on them. Finally the examiner had no choice but to fail him.

Too much nervousness can block our situational awareness or cause us to miss items which we would not ordinarily overlook. I was pretty nervous on my own private pilot checkride. As I set off on my cross country leg, I was soon aware that something was not right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Although I was following the desired heading exactly, our track was nowhere near the line on the chart. I was very good at pilotage skills, so I just ignored the directional gyro and followed my desired track using landmarks and the sectional. I could see the examiner chuckling at me out of the corner of my eye. Finally he reached up and tapped the compass. In my nervousness I had forgotten to set the directional gyro, and it was nowhere near the correct heading. On the other hand, I didn’t panic or get lost, so I still passed the flight test.

Most stressful inflight events are of our own making. Get-there-itis, invulnerability, macho, impulsivity, perceived pressure or any of the other traps of human nature overcome our best judgment and lead us to make decisions and take actions that are against all our training and normal inclinations. We know we really should stop for fuel, but we’re late and we should still have at least twenty minutes in the tanks when we land. We can see that the weather is not nearly as good as forecast, but continue on in hopes that it will clear up in a few miles. The winds are flirting with the maximum allowable crosswind component for our aircraft, but we still taxi out to the runway. When the problem is of our own making, our reaction is complicated by our sense of pride. Although it may be very evident that we are in over our heads, we don’t want to admit we made a mistake, leading us to continue even further into an untenable situation. The charade is made complete by the calm, professional exterior we maintain even when our guts are tied up in knots.

At least in those cases we have some idea of what we are getting ourselves into so our ultimate predicament does not come as a total surprise. With an inflight emergency we have no such preparation. One moment the world is as it should be and we are the masters of our fate, the next we are in the grips of a crisis which seems to paralyze our minds, removing all ability to reason or make decisions. In a recent “I Learned About Flying From That” the pilot did an admirable job of describing how our minds and bodies react to the stress of an emergency. He was cruising along in his new (for him) Citabria when his wife told him that it smelled like something was burning. When he closed his vent, he could actually see the smoke coming up from behind him and being sucked out the window. An event such as this triggers our “fight or flight” coping mechanism, causing the adrenal glands to produce large amounts of adrenaline. The adrenaline increases our heartbeat, rate of breathing, blood sugar level, and perspiration. It also dilates our pupils and slows our digestion. This initial reaction provides us with a burst of energy, increases our strength, and sharpens our hearing and vision. The pilot described how “his breath was coming in short little pants and the stick slipped wetly in his hands.” He said that his heart was hammering in his throat making it difficult to talk. The bottoms of his feet felt hot, leading him to suspect that the fire had progressed under the floor, but when he reached down to touch the floor he found it was cool.

Next came the realization that he was on his own, that “no CFI in the back seat was going to shout ‘I’ve got it’ and take over.” Only he could get them safely to the ground. Fortunately for him, his wife remained very calm. Often pilots in the middle of a crisis are forced to deal with panicking passengers, reducing their ability to effectively handle the problem. Finally, he had to actually do something, to stop staring at the ground and “force his brain to work.” I have been amazed at how frozen the human mind can be in a crisis. At SimuFlite I used to develop the Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT) scenarios for the simulators. When I went through those scenarios during my own recurrent training, I knew what was going to happen but I didn’t know when the instructor would choose to initiate the emergency, and I found that my mind would still initially tend to freeze when the emergency occurred.

The first key to dealing with fear in the cockpit is to be prepared. Know your aircraft, its performance capabilities and its emergency procedures. Every month or so take some time before a flight to practice all the emergency procedures using your cockpit as a procedures trainer. Prepare a list of possible emergencies and then run through each problem on that list, touching the appropriate switch or control. Take the fire extinguisher out of its holder and make sure you know how it works. In a retractable gear aircraft, open the cover to the emergency extension mechanism and attach or unfold the handle. You might be surprised to find how awkward some of these procedures are until you practice them a few times.

When an actual emergency occurs, realize that your initial reaction will be fairly automatic, based on your personality. Try to maintain a balance between carefully assessing the situation and taking some sort of action. People who are faced with only a few choices, none of which they particularly like, may end up doing nothing. In most cases it is important to get started on some sort of plan for dealing with the problem. The longer you wait, the fewer alternatives you will have, until your indecision forces you into one particular outcome which probably was not the best solution. It is especially important to deal with gradually building problems such as continuing into bad weather. The fight or flight reaction takes a lot out of us. A person in a constant state of high stress will quickly become exhausted, further degrading their decision making and flying capabilities and leading ultimately to giving up.


©Jay Hopkins – All rights reserved

Originally published in Flying October, 1996

Pilots like to tell their friends who are afraid to fly that the most dangerous part of the flight is the drive to the airport. However, the danger doesn’t end there. Recent collisions between taxiing aircraft and others in the process of taking off or landing illustrate the dangers present in ground operations. In fact, studies have shown that you are three times more likely to be involved in a collision on the ground than in flight, and the most deadly accident in aviation history occurred on a runway at Tenerife, killing 583 people.

My own brush with a surface collision occurred when I was a corporate pilot flying a Cessna 414 out of Tucson. Most of our flights were to Mexico, where air traffic safety is made more difficult because controllers often speak Spanish to local aircraft. However, I spoke and understood Spanish and thus could usually keep track of what was going on. In this instance I was cleared to land on a straight-in approach to Ciudad Obregon from the northwest. I heard the tower controller, speaking in Spanish, clear a Cessna 206 approaching from the east to land on the intersecting runway, to hold short of my runway. I looked in that direction and saw a Cessna on a long enough final so that he would not be a factor. As I completed my landing and began slowing down, I suddenly saw a Cessna 206 approaching rapidly from the left on the intersecting runway. It turned out that there were two 206s on final and I had not seen the first one. I was going too fast to stop in time, so I made a right turn onto the intersecting runway as the 206 made a left turn onto my runway.

As is often the case, the NASA ASRS reports hold a gold mine of information on surface conflicts. Like many other pilots, I had experienced a problem due to intersecting runway operations. An ASRS Directline report states that many pilots voiced serious concerns about the practice of clearing an aircraft to land on one runway with a restriction to hold short of an intersecting runway which also has an aircraft taking off or landing on it. There were numerous examples of pilots who accepted such a clearance but were then unable to comply with the restriction. Some pilots came in too fast or high and floated, others were more concerned with making a smooth landing or decelerating smoothly than with stopping before the intersecting runway.

Poor visibility can exacerbate problems in surface operations. One flight crew landing in poor visibility scored a double play as they continued through the intersection, causing one aircraft to abort. They then taxied onto a parallel runway, leading to a second abort. This illustrates the problems associated with parallel runways, especially ones which are very close together. Unless you have properly prepared yourself by studying the airport diagram before the approach, you can gracefully exit the runway onto a high speed taxiway and then suddenly find yourself crossing another runway. As one pilot said, “We were not mentally ready to stop so quickly after clearing the runway.”

Some pilots who have not reviewed the airport diagram ahead of time try to rely on airport signs and markings to guide them to their destination. This is difficult enough when the airport is clearly marked, and may be impossible at some locations due to poor signage. It is especially confusing when you are cleared to taxi on a runway, because runways don’t have the markings and signs that taxiways do. Add a complacent crew at their “home drome” and the recipe for disaster is complete:

“…ground instructed us to taxi via Papa to Runway 32L, and on 32 hold short of Golf. No problem…as both the Captain and I have been based at the aerodrome for several years…I asked the Captain if he knew where Golf was. He replied that he had no idea of where it was, but would continue taxiing on Runway 32 until he saw a sign. I told him I’d have a look at the airfield diagram. He replied, ‘Don’t bother with that,” and continued taxiing. While I was heads-down digging out, and figuring out the airport diagram, we taxied past Golf, across 28C (an active runway), and stopped short of taxiway Charlie on Runway 32.”

There were numerous factors leading up to this incident. The crew was operating out of their home airport, so they didn’t have the airport diagram available where it could be referenced if necessary. The Captain continued to taxi when he was unsure of the location of taxiway Golf, hoping to rely on signs indicating where to turn. As he discovered, there were no signs visible from the runway which indicated the location of Golf or Charlie.

Communication problems were involved in many runway incursions. ATC has a habit of calling at the most inopportune moments. A pilot who is busy bringing an aircraft to a stop is not prepared to hear and comply with a complicated taxi clearance. One pilot reported that, “immediately after landing the Tower Controller issued us some lengthy instructions, which we neither could hear nor pay attention to until we came out of reversing and slowed.” Other pilots were distracted by various cockpit duties such as starting engines and running pre-takeoff checklists.

There are a number of very practical steps we can take to avoid runway incursions and the risk of a collision. First we have to get rid of any attitude of complacency. The trip from the tiedown to the runway may seem like a piece of cake compared with the challenge of an approach to minimums or a crosswind landing, but a taxi clearance at a large airport can be more confusing than a complicated instrument clearance. It is also important to overcome the impulsive attitude so prevalent in aircraft operations. In our flying, as in our driving, we often seem bent on saving every possible second by doing two or three things at once. In reality, all that rushing won’t save more than a minute or two on a flight lasting several hours.

When operating at an unfamiliar airport, you should review the airport diagram ahead of time, and then check the route once you get your taxi clearance. If you are based at a large airport, you should have the airport diagram out and available for quick reference. In a crew aircraft, try to wait until both pilots can listen before calling for the taxi clearance, and then write down complicated taxi instructions just as you would an instrument clearance. Read the taxi clearance back to the ground controller, being careful to include any hold-short instructions.

Be especially careful as you start taxiing, since most collisions with stationary objects occur in the vicinity of the gate or tiedown. While the aircraft is in motion, complying with the taxi clearance should take precedence over all other duties such as completing checklists or setting up radios. Be especially careful when cleared to taxi on a runway, when intersecting runway operations are in progress, or when the visibility is poor. Don’t let pride get in the way of asking for help. Just because you can navigate a wide-body jet across the country doesn’t mean you can’t get disoriented on the ground. When starting to taxi at an unfamiliar airport, tell the ground controller you are “unfamiliar” and ask him to keep an eye on you. If there is any doubt or confusion in your mind, stop the aircraft immediately and ask the controller for clarification.

The same vigilance is required at the destination. Review the airport diagram ahead of time and note if there are intersecting runways or parallel runways located in close proximity to the runway you will be landing on. Plan which way you want to turn off the active runway and be sure you are ready to avoid turning onto another runway or crossing a parallel runway without a clearance. Do not accept a clearance to hold short of an intersecting runway after landing unless you are absolutely sure you can actually do so with plenty of room to spare.

Just as in the air, it pays to keep track of what other aircraft are doing. Try to maintain a mental picture of what is occurring on the airport. Even after being cleared by the controller, always make sure there is no one landing or taking off on a runway before you enter or cross it. In many cases you can easily check as you are approaching the runway. Other times it may require a turn back towards the approach end of the runway to assure that no one is on short final.

A pilot’s mind is naturally on getting in the air or to the hanger as quickly and easily as possible. During ground operations we need to make sure our attention is focused on the task at hand and that we give this critical part of the flight the respect it deserves.


©Jay Hopkins – All rights reserved

Originally published in Flying July, 2002

Some people seem to have a natural ability in certain areas. Whether in music, math or mechanics, these people just seem to be programmed for success. Show them something once and they have it. Other people seem to struggle to accomplish what most of us take for granted. Last week my neighbor told me about a student he is tutoring at school. This boy just can’t get math. While other students learned the multiplication tables in a relatively short period of time, this boy just couldn’t get it. Finally, after months of struggling he seemed to understand and be able to multiply in his head.

It is wonderful to be blessed with the natural ability to fly. There is nothing more satisfying than making an airplane do exactly what you want with only the lightest touch on the control wheel; and it brings a true sense of accomplishment to complete a difficult flight with an approach to minimums followed by a smooth landing on a snowy runway in gusty crosswinds.  While I was never good at sports and just squeaked by in school, I excelled in aviation. The ground schools were a breeze. I could complete two written exams in the time it took others to do one. My instructor would show me something once and I would be able to do it myself. While I was providing Aircrew Coordination Training to military instructors I would get to fly the military flight simulators. I had never flown a helicopter or helicopter simulator before, yet on my first takeoff in an SH-3 helicopter simulator I pulled up into a hover, transitioned to a climb, did a Doppler hover on instruments, and then returned to hover and land on the pad. The military instructor said he didn’t understand why his students, who have all completed basic helicopter flight training, can’t do nearly as well. On my first flight in a real helicopter I was able to hover, transition to climb, cruise, descend, and return to a hover stop on my first try.

Many of my students, including my son Jesse, seem to have the same natural ability and quickly pick-up whatever I show them. Others have to work harder, but still are able to maintain a normal progression through the flight syllabus. However, there are a few students who struggle like the boy trying to learn his multiplication tables. I demonstrate, they make an attempt, I critique their performance, they try again. Over and over, flight after flight, I work to help them understand and perfect the basic skills of flying. While some of these “strugglers” slowly make progress, a few get to the point that I have to tell them that I would be happy to continue to work with them, but that it will take a very long time and a lot of money and even then they likely would never get their license.

I truly admire the person without any natural flying ability who continues to struggle until he gets his license. It is hard for me to imagine the determination and persistence required to keep going when every new concept is hard to grasp and every step in the process to becoming a pilot takes much longer, and costs more, than it does for most other students. It is important that pilots who have to struggle to attain their license have a realistic idea of their abilities and set very conservative limits for themselves. They need to realize that just because other pilots can fly in certain conditions it doesn’t mean that they can safely do so.

There are traps for both the natural pilot and for the person who struggles to fly. People who have a natural ability to fly are able to handle difficult situations without getting flustered. They can react quickly and naturally without conscious effort to keep an aircraft under control. They sense the need for correction almost before there is any indication on the gauges. While this can help keep them out of trouble, or get them out of difficult situations, it can also lead to a macho attitude. The natural pilot, because of the ease with which he handles an aircraft, can begin to think that he can handle anything. He may rely on his superior skill to get himself out of situations he could have, or should have, avoided through better planning. While a person with natural ability may be great on the controls, every person has their limits, as does every aircraft. After extricating himself from many sticky situations, he may find that he has finally gotten in too deep. So a little humility and realistic self-assessment are important tools to help the natural pilot keep within the limits of his personal ability as well as the limits of the aircraft.

There are different traps for the pilot who had to struggle to get his license. First there is the problem of currency. A person with natural ability can come back to something after a considerable hiatus and show almost no diminished skill level. For example, after flying gliders for several summers and getting my private and commercial glider ratings, I moved to an area where there were no glider operations. Eighteen years and many moves later I joined a soaring club and took my first review lesson, which also happened to be my first flight in a high performance glider. I flew the entire flight including the takeoff, aero tow, release, soaring, return to the airport and landing, with no coaching from the instructor. After we had come to a stop the instructor said simply, “That is how it is done. I could not have done any better myself.”

A person who lacks natural ability will not only have to work harder during the more intensive flight schedule typical of someone in training, they will lose their skills much more rapidly if they fly less often once they get their license. For example, I had to struggle to pass my college calculus course, and within a few months after the end of the course I would not have been able to do any calculus at all even if my life depended on it. Similarly, a person who had a hard time learning how to do crosswind landings will quickly lose that skill if they don’t practice it on a regular basis.

There is also a risk that a pilot who is very conservative because of an accurate self-assessment of his flying ability will occasionally get into a situation that is beyond his skill level. For example, the wind at the destination may be stronger than forecast and directly across the runway, but still within the published capabilities of the aircraft. It would take a pilot with strong personal integrity to divert to a different airport where he can land into the wind rather than attempt a difficult crosswind landing. I noticed that in the AOPA General Aviation Accident Analysis Book for the years 1982 to 1988, 42% of all takeoff accidents and a whopping 73% of all landing accidents involved nothing more than a lack of basic piloting skills. There was no wake turbulence involved; there was no ice on the aircraft. The pilot didn’t use the wrong flap setting. The runway was adequate for the aircraft and was in good condition. Yet there were approximately 3,000 accidents where the pilot simply lost control or made other basic control errors including: premature rotation, failing to maintain climb speed, stall/mush on final, botched go-arounds, improper flares, excessive speed, landing long or short, delayed go-arounds, high sink rate, and loss of directional control. Each of these pilots somehow lost their ability to handle an airplane in normal flight conditions. I would be willing to bet that many of them were pilots who had to work hard to get to the level of competency required by the FARs and then didn’t have an opportunity to fly regularly and gradually lost some of that skill they had worked so hard to attain.

While it is easy to make a commitment to take the time to maintain our competence in our basic flying skills, in our busy world that commitment often falls by the wayside. Each time we fly we need to carefully assess our capabilities and competency level based on our natural ability coupled with our overall experience and our recent flight time, or lack thereof. Then, if we find our capabilities or our recent experience lacking, we need to make the hard decisions necessary to avoid getting in a situation that is outside our comfort zone.


©Jay Hopkins – All rights reserved

Originally published in Flying January, 2000

Now that I have been back in the saddle for a couple of months, I thought I would share what it has been like to be an aviation Rip Van Winkle. In some ways I have been amazed at how things have improved over the last twenty years. For example, back when I was a corporate pilot there wasn’t a computer on every desk. Flight planning often took a considerable amount of time, especially when the trip was long and the weather was marginal. First the general route had to be determined; then the actual airways listed and the distances added up. With that information carefully noted by hand on a flight log, the pilot would call Flight Service for the weather and laboriously write down all the information which the briefer would provide at a rate slightly faster than the pilot could write. After analyzing everything, the pilot develops the final flight log and the flight plan information, again all by hand.

As I got ready for one of my recent flights I logged onto GTE DUATS on my computer. I couldn’t believe how quickly and easily I could plan my flight and even file my flight plan using my computer and the Internet. Once I entered the information about my Twin Comanche, it was stored for me so I didn’t have to enter it again. Only a few keystrokes were necessary to tell the program my departure point, destination, time of departure and cruising altitude. A few seconds after I asked the program to plan my flight via airways, I had a complete flight log from Chandler, Arizona, to Slidell, Louisiana, with distances, flight times allowing for the winds aloft, and even fuel requirements computed and displayed. I printed out that information then went back and with one small change received the same trip log for GPS/LORAN with every RNAV waypoint was listed. I then could compare the savings in time and fuel by going direct. Click on another box and there was a flight plan, already partially completed with all known information including altitude and route. I filled in the missing data and a few seconds later had submitted my flight plan.

As I prepared to get back into using an airplane as a tool to get to my clients’ locations, I also had to get all the necessary charts, both VFR and IFR. I travel throughout the country so that would entail a lot of charts. Because of the limited space in the Twin Comanche, I was concerned not only about cost, but also about how I would store everything. If the charts Dick Collins carries for just the eastern and central United States take up 11 books and weigh over 46 pounds, there was no way that I had room for the charts for the entire country. Then I saw an ad for Howie Keefe’s Air Chart Systems and decided to give it a try. It took a while to get used to it, but now I love it. I have all the IFR Low Altitude Enroute Charts in one spiral bound book, and all the WAC Charts in another. Each page has notations on how to continue in any direction, along with a generous overlap. I selected the ring bound NOS IFR Approach Plates so I could remove the approaches to some of my common destinations and keep them together. The rest of the approach plates fit nicely into two small cardboard boxes, one for the northern US and the other for the southern US. Those boxes reside on one of the rear seats, making all the approaches available to me if necessary. The Keefe system has the added advantage of not needing constant updating. A few minutes before a flight is all that is necessary.

Even though I had done an instrument and multi-engine competency check in a Seneca prior to purchasing the Twin Comanche, I also wanted to do the same in my plane. I recently accomplished the multi-engine part with John Walkup, president of Chandler Air Service. I chose John because he actually has experience in Twin Comanches, along with extensive single, multi-engine and aerobatic training experience. I am a multi-engine instructor myself, but I wanted someone with more recent experience along before I started shutting engines down and doing VMC demonstrations. We spent an enjoyable two hours doing all the multi-engine stuff along with some steep turns, slow flight and stalls. It was good to verify that the propellers would indeed feather and unfeather, and to experience what the plane felt like when flying on just one engine. I definitely feel more at ease in the airplane and more prepared to deal with any emergencies which might come my way.

In general I have enjoyed getting back in the cockpit. I have especially savored the freedom from the whole airline rat race. In fact, since I bought 479HC, my shadow has not crossed the threshold of any airline terminal. Besides the freedom having my own wings has brought me, I also like the ability to take more stuff with me. Now that I can drive the car right up to the plane and am not limited by airline baggage maximums or my own ability to haul whatever I take through endless corridors, I find myself packing extras I would never even consider taking on an airline—roller blades, extra files, my hiking gear. That means I can make better use of my down time and stay in shape too!

Of course nothing is ever perfect, and there have been a few sore spots in my reentry into  serious aviation involvement. Some were humorous if somewhat embarrassing, such as the time I needed to check the weather on one of my first flights. I went up to the person at the FBO counter and in my best experienced pilot voice asked, “So, what number do you use to call Flight Service from here?” The person at the counter seemed to be wondering what planet I had just come in from as he said, “1-800-WX-BRIEF, of course!” (For those readers who acquired their licenses in the past 15 years, once upon a time there was no national toll free number and it was necessary to use the proper FSS phone number for each area.)

Another difficulty has been securing transportation at the destination. While we like to boast that we can fly to thousands of airports that the airlines don’t serve, that doesn’t mean it will be possible to go anywhere once we arrive. In many small towns there is no way to get off the airport unless you want to walk. Fortunately many of the FBOs in these smaller towns are aware of the situation and try to have a crew car available, but even that won’t help if you plan to arrive after the FBO has closed.

That was the situation last weekend as I headed east to Louisiana again. I had planned to leave early Sunday morning and make the trip in one day. However, when I checked the Weather Channel Saturday morning, I found they were forecasting snow and freezing rain for most of New Mexico just when I would be passing through, so I decided to leave right away to beat the weather. The problem was that the FBO at my planned fuel stop in Burnet, Texas, would be closed by the time I arrived, and the local motel would not be able to pick me up. After several phone calls back and forth, Dale Faulkner of Faulkner’s Air Shop very graciously offered to have a Lincoln Town Car waiting in the parking lot for me and everything worked out fine.

Other lessons I have learned over the past two months:

Don’t eat anything chocolate, especially while wearing khaki pants. Also, don’t open a carbonated beverage when flying at 17,000 feet!

Always have a washcloth handy in case you break one of the above rules.

The worst turbulence on a flight will occur just when you have gotten ready to reduce your bladder pressure. (See note about washcloth.)

Some pilots will labor long and hard to help their fellow airmen. For example, take a look at Southern Aviation Resources. This free web site maintained by F. A. Waters of the De Ridder FSS has an incredible selection of aviation preflight planning resources and other aviation information. (

The GPS really does work better with antenna vertical, just like the book says. The previous owner had placed the antenna as close to the windshield as possible, causing it to tilt back significantly. I found that it acquired the necessary satellites much faster when I moved the antenna back a bit so it could be vertical.

Notwithstanding the previous adjustment, the GPS will develop “Poor Coverage” just when you need it most. For example, there is one area of the Rockies southwest of Denver where the GPS seems to lose coverage on almost every flight. This is also the area where VOR reception is marginal even up in the mid teens.

Be very careful using a cannular oxygen delivery system. I had never used oxygen before as all my flights in my previous life were either below 10,000 feet or were in pressurized aircraft. On my first flight using this system, I turned the oxygen on, inserted the metal plunger into the proper receptacle and put the cannular dispenser into my nostrils. As the flight progressed, I had to climb higher to get over some weather and at 18,000 feet attempted to switch to the oxygen mask as required by the FAA. I couldn’t figure out how to switch from the cannular dispenser to the mask and had a tangle of oxygen hoses spread across the two front seats before I became aware that I was definitely experiencing the effects of hypoxia. I finally realized that I had missed one nostril and was only receiving oxygen from one of the cannular outlets!

Take any advice from an FSS briefer with a grain of salt. While I’m sure they meant well, several times I have received advice which was directly contrary to everything I knew from my own preflight preparation. (I would like to hear about your experience in this area. Please see request for reader feedback below.)

Even though I have learned a lot over the past two months, and have gotten back up to speed fairly quickly, I obviously still have a lot to learn and some weak areas that still need attention. My next step is to spend some time in a simulator polishing my instrument skills, followed by one or more flights under the hood in 479HC. Only then will I feel I am once again qualified to fly “hard IFR” with extended periods in the clouds followed by an approach to minimums.


What is the worst advice you ever received from an FSS Briefer (including Flight Watch), and what course of action did you follow? Please provide a brief description of the situation and how it turned out to Jay Hopkins c/o: