ASRS Callback Humility Recalibration

By Scott Spangler on December 30th, 2019

callbackHumility is the absence of vanity or excessive pride, a state or quality of being humble. Humble individuals are conscious of—and acknowledge—their defects or shortcomings. They are modest and not overly proud. Humility is an essential element in aviation safety, and it needs to be periodically recalibrated at least annually.

This self-assessment depends, on large part, on how the aviator’s year has gone. If it could have been better, most likely these less than happy events have already recalibrated a pilot’s humility. On the other hand, if a pilot has had a good year (or consciously forgotten the unfulfilled consequences of less than stellar decisions), then the aviator should take stock and recalibrate because no one flies without fault.

There is no better place to reassess one’s aeronautical humility than Callback, published by NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System. It receives, processes, and analyzes thousands of incident reports that pilots submit annually. It publishes the more interesting incidents in each issue and publishes the ASRS Year End Roundup in December, which is perfect for a pilot’s annual humility evaluation and recalibration.

Related imageIn tune with the season, the Callback roundup is a “lighthearted medley” complied from the 108,000 reports ASRS received this year. Although I’d wager that the pilots making the reports were not so lighthearted when the situations they described were unfolding.

Imagine, you’re a private pilot winging your way out of the Washington, DC, Special Flight Rules Area when your 50-pound dog jumps from the back to the front seat. In the process it hit the panel and cleared the flight plan out of the Garmin 430, pulled the cigarette lighter power cord for the GDL 39, knocked the tablet to the passenger side floor, and “ripped the microphone port of my headset out at the connector.”

The pilot didn’t realize that his dog had disconnected his mic when ATC’s calls made clear that they could not hear him. It took him a while to untangle the cord from his dog and its leash while trying to fly the plane and not bust the Class B or the Flight Restricted Zone.

If, at any time while reading this report, or any other, you thought that “I’d never do that!” or “That would never happen to me!”, then you need to recalibrate your humility. In one form or another, it can happen to all of us. All it takes is a moment of inattention or assumption.

Image result for aviation fuel placardsJust ask the ASRS Roundup pilot whose twin Bonanza was topped off with Jet A. In a hurry to secure the airplane in weather, he requested “top off main tanks only” without specifying what to top them off with. He likely assumed that the new line service guy would read the 100LL placards, and if that failed, the Jet A duckbill nozzle would prevent him from putting the wrong go juice in the airplane.

But that didn’t happen. The Jet A truck didn’t have a duckbill nozzle, and the gas guy was new to aviation. Fortunately, the pilot caught the error when he saw the big JET A label on the truck, but he didn’t see it until his tanks were topped off. Pilots who think this could not happen to them either watch every drop that goes into the tanks, or they trust their lives to the line crew. In either case, a humility adjustment might be in order.

Ultimately, it is to every pilot’s benefit to read each issue of the ASRS Callback. This not only keeps pilots humble, it builds a mental library of less than safe circumstances that might grab their attention and arrest their progress on the error chain. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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