A few years ago a young pilot came to train with me—let’s call him Dylan. Dylan had his commercial and instrument rating with about 500 hours total time. At the time he was 19 years old and a full-time college student. He explained to me that his father’s company had just purchased a Cirrus SR22. Because he had his commercial and instrument ratings, his father anointed him “Company Pilot.” His father was not a pilot and Dylan had no Cirrus time.
Dylan needed transition training on the Cirrus. He wanted my thoughts about how to operate the Cirrus flight department of the company not only safely but also effectively. The two of us together started from scratch on how to build a company flight department with a low time pilot on his first commercial flying job.
Step One – Establish Personal Minimums: Using the personal minimums matrix in the Cirrus iFOM we quickly established Dylan’s IFR minimums. It worked out to be a minimum of a 500 ft. ceiling and 1 mile visibility. In addition, it was decided that he would add 200 ft and 1/2 mile to any approach minimums that were above the 500 ft. and 1 mile rule.
Step Two – Establish a Risk Assessment Program: We agreed that the use of the P-A-V-E and I-M-S-A-F-E acronyms would be used for each leg.
Step Three – Establish a Training Program: Using the Cirrus Approach training materials, we completed the SR22 Perspective Advanced Transition Course. On is own, Dylan completed the Cirrus Icing Awareness, Engine Management, CAPS, and SR Series System courses. He also completed the FAAST Team Guide to an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) and Flight Review on the FAAsafety.gov website.
A recurrent program was established using the Cirrus Approach courses. The recurrent program included a 90-day Cirrus skill refresher, a 6-month Cirrus recurrent (alternating schedule A and B), a mandatory IPC with a Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilot every 6 months, and attending one CPPP event each year.
Step Four – Establish a Plan B. Together we worked through various scenarios that might come up requiring a Plan B, most of them weather-related. We decided that Plan B should be implemented in such a manner to give the passengers time to come up with alternate travel arrangements. Priority was given to meeting the travel needs of the company safely and efficiently.
This is where all of this gets interesting. As we all know “get-there-itis” is the cause of many accidents. Football games, weddings, vacation rentals, holidays, business meetings, and returning to work from these events are all examples. How many of us know, or have read about someone lost, going to or from a college or professional football game in the fall or the Thanksgiving holiday? Most of us have a Plan B in mind but it might not be developed into a concrete plan and often is not executed in time to put it into action. This is where Dylan’s plan works beautifully and has been very successful for both him and the company.
One of the key elements of the plan is that it be implemented 24 hours before the scheduled departure. This is quite a ways out and eliminates being able to check the latest weather forecasts that typically come out at 1800. But it allows for the ability to execute Plan B and eliminates the pressure of making the no-go decision when it’s too late for Plan B. For example, standing in front of the aircraft with the passengers and hearing yourself say, “I would normally not take this flight but…” How many accidents might this have prevented?
Twenty four hours before the scheduled flight, Dylan would call the passengers. He would either advise them that the forecasted weather would not allow for the use of the Cirrus or give them a quick briefing on the flight and agreeable weather. But here’s the killer part—Dylan would know the options available for his passengers and offer them up:
- “Could we delay the flight?” “No, got to be there!” OK, next step.
- Driving time: Dylan would know the number of hours to drive to the planned destination. With 24 hours prior notice, this would be a viable option. If it was on the return leg, he would know where a rental car was available and how much it would cost.
- Driving will not work? “OK, how about an airline flight?” Dylan would know what airline options were available, what time they left, how much the fares are, and even if there are seats available. He also knows this information for the return flight so if the weather moves in he has his passengers covered to get them home if it’s not suitable conditions for the Cirrus.
The passengers now expect to receive a call from Dylan 24 hours before the flight. They know that he will have their travel needs covered. They have no hesitation flying in the Cirrus because they know that Plan B would have been executed if the weather was not suitable for the Cirrus. The concerned spouse knows that the call is coming and is relieved that a safe travel plan is in place.
Plan B works so well that shortly after Dylan turned 20, he was placed in charge of all of the travel needs of the company. He has become the in-house expert on airline fares, schedules, rental cars, hotels, awards programs, and the operation of the company planes. All of this is placed under his command. This has been so successful that the company now, in addition to the Cirrus, also operates a twin-engine business jet. The passengers still get that reassuring call 24 hours in advance. They understand where the company planes work well and where they do not. Not surprisingly, Dylan is now the chief pilot.
Know your personal minimums and have a recurrent training program. Have a Plan B, and implement your Plan B in plenty of time to arrange alternate transportation or to delay the flight. Make sure that your Plan B covers the return flight. Eliminate get-there-itis from your flight operations and your passengers will feel much safer. You might even advance to chief pilot!
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Outstanding! These are the kinds of ideas that make us all safer.
Very nice! Being a commuter for several years flying on a base 800nm from my – under serviced – hometown, plan B and C were always there. And were used more than a couple times.
I really like these ideas! I often pick up employees for my flight school who very urgently want to get home. I’m going to implement some of these ideas, including arranging alternative transportation if the weather’s really bad.
GREAT article. GREAT ideas. Outstanding!
Great level of discipline applied to GA missions (much like part 135). I have long advocated every pilot faced with a challenging decision “call a friend” (preferably a knowledgable, trusted “pilot mentor”) to act as a sounding board for good judgment (“am I thinking through this correctly?”) This “double-check” (much like a Part 135 dispatch procedure) would eliminate a majority of enroute accidents.
BTW: Typo here? “Step Four – Establish a >Pan B.< Together we…"
Do the weather forecasters ever miss within the 24 hour notification period?
Always train to minimums, weather can change and ceilings drop over a wide area but still be above minimums. You now have another risk analysis to resolve, land in conditions that you are trained to handle or calculate the risk of flying for several more hours in IFR conditions. Forget the 1-2-3 rule, always have an alternate.
As important as destination minimums are… Just as important are en-route conditions (and minimums) and they should never be overlooked. For example… Destination mins are not an issue but, say the flight that will take you right through a line of thunderstorms would be enough for me to scrub. That said I am admittedly an old(er) pilot, not a bold pilot of some 35 years with no accidents/incidents and no bent or damaged metal.
Excellent. This is right out of the FAA “Playbook.”
Read and article once by a local medical examiner, who also flew a small plane of his own. He wrote, if a pilot wants to fly safely, every pilot should fly “professionally”, weather or not they are a professional pilot. Very wise I thought, and still do.
What a great idea. Thanks for sharing.
A great article & story! Another option that I’ve used in my own business travel when planning to use GA is to purchase a refundable ticket on an airline if driving is too far or time-consuming. I realize we’re in a situation where not all are comfortable flying on the airlines with the COVID situation, but it sure helps with the decision making on the night before or day of the planned flight. I’ve only used the airline option twice, both weather related-and was so very glad I did!!
Very good article, and a few comments….
First, an “operations manual” is an excellent idea, for any operation.
Regarding personal minimums, so many folks are first to simply “raise the minimums” and that’s probably not a bad idea until the pilot has 100 hours in type. However, minimums should also include other items, like runway requirements, passenger load, duty times, more weather, like wind, ice, convective activity, etc. It’s pretty rare when a flight is scrubbed due to mins, vs all the other factors.
Also, having a plan B is ALWAYS a good idea, in ANY weather, and occasionally a plan C. Calling 24 hours out is a nice touch for the pax, but thing most likely will change before departure.
Assuming the Cirrus is reasonably equipped for the weather, and the pilot is competent and current, they should be able to complete at least 95% of the flights, perhaps more. I did that in my 135 operation, and continue to do that in retirement with my personal plane. However, if I absolutely, positively need to be there, I’ll leave at least a day earlier. (Actually close to 98% if I arrive within 6 hours of planned, with zero issues last year).
Now, for the most part a 19 year old is VERY INEXPERIENCED and often still growing up. Being chief pilot is a HUGE responsibility and I’d argue against it. However, I’m glad it worked and this young man is clearly exceptional.
Keep up the good work.
Great idea, outstanding implementation – and a great narration too!