The Go/No-Go Decision

From the very beginning of training pilots are taught the importance of the go/no-go decision. They’re taught it’s not a decision that’s ever completely made; instead it changes even in flight depending on the conditions. The decision is only final once the plane has landed at it’s destination.

When I was a newly minted private pilot, I was a pretty nervous and cautious pilot. After all, at 65 hours I was entrusted to make solo decisions about flights! As a result I tended to scrub a flight if there was any hint at bad weather, be it a thunderstorm, or gusty winds. I had low tolerances for crosswinds and ceilings. If rain was in the forecast, I wasn’t flying.

Making cautious decisions serves a new pilot well, but it cannot be the theme for a pilot’s career. “Smooth seas never made a skillful sailor” they say; the same is true of aviation. This is why the FAA requires a private pilot seeking an instrument rating to have fifty hours of cross country time as pilot in command; they want pilots to experience different conditions, see different situations and have a variety of experiences. The private pilot certificate only requires cross country training with an instructor and a couple solo flights totaling five hours. The instrument rating is all about cross country flying.

Now, I am far more fact-based in my assessment of conditions and whether or not to make a flight. I’ve learned that forecasts are just that – forecasts. They can be and often are wrong. I’ve also begun to learn my local area; Gaithersburg is less windy than Dulles, for example. I’ve learned that low fog and IFR conditions in a particular aerodrome do not mean that IFR conditions exist all the way to the service ceiling or a given airspace ceiling for my airplane; summer mornings often have fog that can be flown over (so long as the destination is clear). And I’ve learned that even when conditions are marginal, there’s a lot of VFR out there (90% of all flight is done in VFR conditions).

There are good reasons to have good limitations, and reasonable personal minimums. I still enforce personal limits, because it makes good safety sense. With ever “go” decision, I learn, and as I learn I get better at making that go/no-go decision the next time.