4 min read

As a fan of the Air Facts series on Go/No Go decisions, reader Mark Fay shares his own recent, real-life decision process.

A long time client in Leavenworth, Kansas, has invited you to a meeting to show your newest product. The key decision-makers are only available from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. You scheduled a flight in your Cessna Turbo 182RG, equipped with a Stormscope, XM weather and S-TEC 55 autopilot. You are instrument rated, current and proficient having just passed your Flight Review two weeks ago with flying (heh heh) colors.

The flight plan is to leave the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois (1C5) to the Leavenworth Army air base (KFLV). The scheduled departure time is 6:30 a.m. allowing for a two-hour and 20-minute flight to arrive around nine. This will give you plenty of time to pick up the loaner car from airport manager Dean and drive the 30 minutes to get off base and across town to the office. It’s your general custom to never check the weather the night before because all too often it leads to a restless night of little sleep when the possibility of a delay, or even worse a cancellation, exists–especially when an appointment the night before precluded getting there a day early as was the case last night.

You wake up at 4:30 and check your flight plan and the weather. Immediately you see a problem.

Using KMCI as forecast location; scheduled arrival 1400Z:

KMCI 171128Z 1712/1812 13010KT 5SM BR VCSH (showers in vicinity) OVC007
FM171300 12010KT 4SM BR VCTS (thunderstorms in vicinity) BKN004CB
TEMPO 1713/1715 2SM -TSRA BR BKN002CB
FM171500 13011KT P6SM BKN007
FM171900 17011KT P6SM BKN025

The terminal area forecast for Kansas City (KMCI) shows 700 foot overcast dropping to 200 before lifting by later afternoon to 2500 foot broken. While the current ceiling is 900, even that’s pretty close for comfort given that the GPS approach into Leavenworth requires a minimum ceiling of 800 feet. Additionally, having been to the airport before, you realize it lies in a river valley and you’re suspicious of ground fog and lower visibility than MCI. KFLV does not have weather reporting at all. Good chances for a missed approach. What then?

MCI metar map

How about your alternate? You could go to MCI and their welcoming ILS to rent a car either after taking a peak at KFLV or avoiding that temptation. The one-hour drive plus car pick-up time would make it tight but doable. Always fun to mix it up with the big boys and you would relish the challenge. And all things considered, you could justify the exorbitant cost of such a decision with a clear conscience.

But, looking at the advancing thunderstorms on the radar, MCI is not gold-plated either. Going right into a line of embedded thunderstorms, anything could happen and you might get diverted 50 miles away, eliminating your chance to make it on time. Could you find a WiFi spot and do the meeting remotely in that case? Topeka’s in the thick of it and another 35 minutes away. But almost any airport would do, wouldn’t it? You don’t like the idea of getting stuck on a slow connection in a noisy FBO with other vagrants from the elements like you.

MCI radar


MCI close up radar

On top of that, your flight plan puts you in an AIRMET for icing from 12,000 to 24,000 in Eastern Illinois through Missouri. This is a pretty minor concern as you can descend lower, but the slower speed would for sure eat up fuel reserve and put more pressure on you if you have to go missed. You have four hours and 15 minutes on board.

MCI icing 11kMCI ice 13k

MCI 15k

Because the storms are not associated with a front, you have a strong hunch that they will break up and you can sneak in, but the briefer–like always–is predicting death and destruction if you try to play that hunch. You’ve taken off looking at much worse than this when you had more time flexibility. Most often your intuition was right. Not always, though. In 150 hours this summer you spent one night in a Coshocton, Ohio, motel room with Chicago Bulls playoff tickets in your pocket when it didn’t. Ouch.

MCI surface analysis


MCI satellite nationwide

MCI convective

While the client is a long time customer, you really want this opportunity to sell your newest product. Doing so would cement your relationship and generate a significant amount of profit for your company because there would be little cost to implement. You could do the meeting remotely but your project sponsor really wants you to meet the new president and CEO and this was the only time available on their schedule this quarter. The meeting has been planned for 10 weeks. It’s now or never.

Go or no go? Add a comment below.

Mark Fay
Latest posts by Mark Fay (see all)
14 replies
  1. Duane
    Duane says:

    If this were my decision, it would be a clear “No go”. But knowing how things go all too often in the real world of weather flying, I would not put myself in a position to even make such a decision on the day of the trip.

    When you positively, absolutely have to be there by time certain, buy an airline ticket, or drive.

    Or better yet, since we pilots like to fly our airplanes, plan to be there the day before with a backup airline ticket available if the weather craps out.

    In this scenario, not only are there numerous weather risks, of the very worst kind (t-storms), but the time constraints make everything that much worse by escalating decision pressure on the pilot. At the very best, this is a textbook definition of “get there-itis”, even if the weather forecast looked great, which it doesn’t. Which can induce poor pilot decisionmaking even in routine operations in good weather.

    In this case, the known weather risks represents a very high probability of a bad outcome.

  2. anon
    anon says:

    Southwest has hourly non-stops from MDW to MCI. Seems like, since you’re up at 0430 already, you could easily make the 0730 flight to KCI. The rental car + $180 round trip fare is about the same cost as the 4 hours of fuel you’ll burn.

  3. Gregory Vivaldi
    Gregory Vivaldi says:

    Don’t like the checking the weather the night before….for something this important I would be watching for a couple days both the weather and the airlines, making sure I could get there either way.

    If this was a pleasure flight it would be a no go, and with this important presentation the last thing you need would be more stress with the challenging flight conditions and pressed with the meeting in your head.

  4. David Megginson
    David Megginson says:

    For me, no go. After scaring myself a few times, I now follow a written set of personal rules, one of which is not to leave unless my primary destination – or a usable airport within 20 miles of it- meets legal alternate criteria.

  5. Liad BIton
    Liad BIton says:

    I don’t have my Instrument ticket yet, however I do a good amount of business VFR flying.

    I always (always!) have a backup airline ticket ready for the same day.
    The cost of calling the airline and getting a credit for that unused ticket takes 10 minutes tops, and you can always use it later.

    my 2 cents.

  6. Larry Baum
    Larry Baum says:

    In many ways, this is a great go/no-go scenario. It depicts a real-life scenario with iffy weather, a strong business pressure to perform, and the need to make a decision now.

    The pluses:
    – Good airplane that’s well equipped including XM weather and stormscope. You’ll know what the destination weather is and can “see” if it’s acting according to forecast or not.
    – Properly rated pilot who is current and has significant recent experience
    – Plenty of “outs” should the destination or en-route weather turns poor.
    – Although Mark discusses icing, it’s really not a significant factor.

    The minuses:
    – Mission pressure to get there. I can’t get inside of Mark’s head and don’t know how he makes decisions. If the business decisions can outweigh his flying decisions, then staying on the ground is the only safe option.
    – A forecast that can be anything from benign to pretty bad, potentially closing out his alternate KMCI.

    From the business and time perspectives, there are three scenarios:
    – Fly into KFLV and drive 30 minutes.
    – Fly into KMCI and drive 1 hour.
    – Be anywhere else and do the presentation remotely.

    My decision based on the information and if the decision is to fly:
    – Change the primary destination to KMCI. Call Signature and reserve a rental car. Forget KFLV since it doesn’t have weather reporting. (Should the weather at KMCI be much better than forecast at time of arrival, maybe decide to fly the 10nm over to KFLV, but probably not.)
    – Checkout the surrounding airports and pick a new alternate or two that will have decent weather at that time as well as a good FBO to set up and run the demo if it needs to be done remotely.
    – Get into the air as quickly as possible so that there is as much extra time available.

    I’d probably go, but I could also easily go back to bed, get up at a decent hour, and run the demonstration remotely from my office.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Great analysis, Larry. I agree – with a proficient pilot and a well-equipped airplane, this flight could be done. And getting started earlier is better.

      The issue I see is the pressure to perform. Do you trust yourself to ignore that pressure? My answer is maybe. There’s no ice and not much convective weather here. It’s basically a matter of low ceilings. That type of weather is less susceptible to “get-there-itis” than thunderstorms, for example. File for MCI, pick a decent alternate and follow the rules.

      Having said all that, GoToMeeting works pretty well nowadays. Why hasn’t it improved the GA accident record?

  7. Mark Fay
    Mark Fay says:

    Thanks for all of the great analyses and comments.

    I didn’t go, and I would make the same decision again. But John was right: I could’ve gotten in based on the weather in the later part of that timeframe. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten in because I do not know what the traffic situation was at MCI as the weather had been scuzzy for a while – they might have been backed up.

    I actually drove to the airport speaking with the briefer thinking I could go direct MCI, which I really wanted to do. My main no go was when the briefer opined that if the storm sat right down on the airport I would miss the meeting. Then I would have to make my sponsor scramble to do the remote connection while I found a quiet spot somewhere and connected up – and I don’t like to surprise my sponsors like that.

    And best case as it turned out was I would arrive just before the meeting without much opportunity to take a deep breath.

    For sure good points: I should have looked for alternative transport earlier on SWA and left earlier. But even though I got up at 4:30, I had a number of work and family issues to deal with so I couldn’t realistically leave more than 1 hour earlier. But I would have made it.

    So the way I had worked my schedule I had to arrive MCI 8:45 to 9:45 latest. A 182 is not a 737 and sometimes the timing isn’t right.

    All’s well that ends well: we did the meeting remote with a good outcome and I was even complimented by one of the execs for the decision. They fly in business aircraft often though they are not pilots. He said he would have thought about it if they were supposed to leave at that time and they really liked our new product.

    Hear are the Actual METARS from Weather Underground for that day.

    8:43 AM 62.6 °F 60.8 °F 94% 30.16 in 0.8 mi SSE 11.5 mph – 0.23 in Rain , Thunderstorm Heavy Thunderstorms and Rain

    SPECI KMCI 171343Z 16010KT 3/4SM R19R/3500VP6000FT +TSRA BR SCT005 BKN023 OVC036 17/16 A3016 RMK AO2 TSB36RAE09B27 OCNL LTGCGIC W TS W MOV E P0023

    8:53 AM 62.1 °F 60.1 °F 93% 30.15 in 0.8 mi South 11.5 mph – 0.31 in Rain , Thunderstorm Thunderstorms and Rain

    METAR KMCI 171353Z 17010KT 3/4SM TSRA BR BKN005 BKN023 OVC036CB 17/16 A3016 RMK AO2 SFC VIS 1 3/4 TSB36RAE09B27 SLP208 OCNL LTGCGIC W TS W MOV E P0031 T01670156

    9:02 AM 62.6 °F 60.8 °F 94% 30.15 in 2.0 mi SSE 12.7 mph – 0.03 in Rain Rain

    SPECI KMCI 171402Z 16011KT 2SM RA BR BKN003 BKN025 OVC038 17/16 A3015 RMK AO2 TSE02 P0003

    9:33 AM 62.6 °F 60.8 °F 94% 30.15 in 2.0 mi South 8.1 mph – 0.14 in Rain Rain

    SPECI KMCI 171433Z 17007KT 2SM RA BR FEW005 BKN060 OVC100 17/16 A3015 RMK AO2 SFC VIS 2 1/2 TSE02 P0014

    9:53 AM 63.0 °F 61.0 °F 93% 30.14 in 2.0 mi SSE 9.2 mph – 0.18 in Rain Light Rain

    METAR KMCI 171453Z 16008KT 2SM -RA BR FEW005 SCT065 OVC110 17/16 A3015 RMK AO2 SFC VIS 4 TSE02 SLP206 P0018 60059 T01720161 58000

    Read more at http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KMCI/2013/9/17/DailyHistory.html#G5FxcTd7yPvb5LW3.99

  8. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    I always buy a refoundable airline ticket when the weather is forecast to be unfair two days before.
    Simple and safe.

    • Greg Ellis
      Greg Ellis says:

      Well Mark, I am glad it all worked out well for you and looks like your decision not to fly was a good one. I begin checking the weather a couple of days in advance. There are prog charts that will give you historical charting so you can see what the weather has been doing and deduce what it may do in the next few days. Also, this can help you plan for a last minute change of transportation like many have commented on. Not sure if you will change your mind about checking the weather the night before but you may want to consider it for future important business trips so other arrangements can be made without too much stress. If the weather check the night before is enough to keep you awake all night then maybe alternate transportation should be made.

  9. Ronald Usher
    Ronald Usher says:

    ” GO or NOGO” Me from no experience over this terrain or country isn’t a good assessment , however in Australia if this applied to me I would wait 12 hours, if I really wanted to fly!! and have the turkey dinner tomorrow, safetly with the family, OR I would fly United like I have done in the States, but just hold on to your Scotch with so much turbulence, and if things get grim with United “order a larger Scotch”.

  10. Duane Mader
    Duane Mader says:

    For additional info I would want to animate that radar to get a feel for movement and whether the cells are growing or dissipating.

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