Close Calls

Normalisation of Deviance - Rob Matthews

Normalisation of Deviance, Safety

Thursday 9 February, 2017

As part of National Safety Month 2016, we invited our members to submit stories relating to Human Factors.
Below is an article submitted by one of the competition's finalists:


I think it is hard sometimes to forgive yourself for mistakes you make, especially in aviation because it is something we work very hard at and have spent a lot of money doing.

It's especially hard for me, a relatively new Pilot Certificate holder. I’ve already made mistakes, some silly and some potentially unsafe. One thing I have learned and want to tell other young pilots about is something UK billionaire, Richard Branson says. Branson has made numerous mistakes and errors but bounced back each time. He says, “Do not be embarrassed by your failures. Learn from them and start again”. Another saying is, “When you put your heart and soul into something, any mistake can feel like a disaster. Everyone fails sometimes – it is what you do next that counts. Don’t give up”. I am sure everyone can relate to these sayings, whether it was a bad landing or a rushed pre-flight inspection which led to an issue during flight. We all have stories. These sayings also reflect a lot on my own aviation story.

During a local flight where I had quite a number of passengers wanting to go flying, I conducted an intersection departure, reducing my taxi time, but also reducing around 900m of the 1,500m runway. I thought it would be safe because I knew the aircraft I was flying could take-off in just 100m and land in around 90m. One day soon afterwards I went flying with my instructor and he made me go right down the very end of the runway. We took off and before I knew anything, he cut the power. I safely touched down, but with only 100m of the runway remaining in front of us.

What did I learn? That my instructor had seen my intersection departure and knew the best lesson would be the one learned the hard way. I realised what he was getting at. If I had conducted that intersection departure and the aircraft lost power for real, I would have ended up in a house or the grain lot which is just past the runway.

From that day on, I understood the comments pilots make about how the one of the most useless things in the world is the amount of runway behind you. I was embarrassed for my actions, knowing I was, at the time, only an 80hour pilot and he had been watching me. It made me feel really small that I also displayed poor Airmanship because of a bad decision. I was embarrassed enough to consider giving aviation a rest for a while. Instead I took Richard Branson’s advice and booked a lesson the following weekend and have been flying happily since. I am now glad I learned that particular lesson so early on in my flying career.

As I draw closer to 100 hours in my log book, I face a new worry. I am told by many pilots to be very careful because a lot of accidents happen around this time. I hope I can report to you in a few years that my changed attitude to my flying meant my next hundred hours passed safely. It’s what I will do next flight which counts. What I want to get across is even the things we do which may seem like normalization can be potentially dangerous. These things which some may conduct frequently can cause catastrophic events because of an unnecessary action. After reading this take a moment to reflect on something you have learnt a lesson from, something that you may have considered safe at the time, and how you have learnt from it and what you did differently the next time.

Remember its what you do next time that counts.