As pilots, it is your responsibility to ensure that risks are properly managed throughout the flight and it is important to manage any pressure that passengers and customers might put on you to do anything that might put safety at risk. Share the joy of flying safely and ask yourself: “How often do I take unacceptable risks to please customers or friends?”
This article is mainly aimed at private pilots where the pilot invites passengers to a flight for the joy of flying. However, the messages are equally applicable to pilots in Commercial Air Transport (CAT) operations, where various types of mission pressure can affect the pilots.
Creating a fun experience for passengers shouldn’t put lives at risk. It is important to fly safely and to resist passenger pressure when they make requests that might endanger safety. By managing the expectations of your passengers it may make it easier to deal with such situations during the flight. You have the power to say no.
Using a well-known Frank Borman quote: “A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill”. The better you prepare your passenger before the flight, the less chance there is that you will be put under pressure during the flight when you may only have a short period of time to make a decision.
The challenge of getting pressure from passengers
Once again, EASA, Together4Safety and the ESPN-R have enlisted the help of former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen to help the European Helicopter Community to better understand the challenge of passenger pressure! In this video, Ari plays the role of pilot in the second of our videos to champion important flight safety topics for the helicopter community. This clip scenario was developed together with the cross-industry members of the ESPN-R.
The video shows a passenger, Mike, alias film director and Flight Instructor Mathieu Vandenavenne, meeting pilot Ari for his first helicopter flight. Mike demands to Ari to fly close to a cliff and close to or below a bridge to have fun and take sensational pictures to post on social media and impress friends.
Ari would like to satisfy Mike’s requests. However, for safety reasons, he chooses to make the right choice to respect the minimum clearance with the cliff and with the bridge, in compliance with applicable Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA). He tells Mike that he has nothing to prove, that flying close to obstacles could cost him his license and more importantly, put their lives at risk.
Initially, Mike is frustrated with Ari’s decision but then changes his attitude when Ari explains the reasons why he needs to follow certain rules to ensure Mike’s safety. In the end Mike thanks Ari for the flight experience and apologises to him for making unsafe requests. In end, he still got something sensational to show his friends while ensuring the safety of the flight.
Key things to consider when flying passengers
There are a number of things that pilots can do to resist pressure that may be put on them by passengers, friends, customers, VIPs and company executives:
- Ultimately, it is your responsibility as the pilot in command to resist passenger pressure and fly safely within the rules – they exist for your safety and the safety of others.
- Don’t put lives at risk just to create a fun experience for your passengers. At the end of the day, you have nothing to prove!
- Before the flight, provide your passengers with a safety briefing to help manage their expectations and save them putting pressure on you when in the air.
- Always have your personal and regulatory minimums in mind. If the weather conditions or a technical problem make it necessary to cancel the flight, explain the situation clearly to your passengers. Once you have made your decision, stick to it – do not be pressured into taking unnecessary risks.
- Know the rules, procedures and limitations: it is easier to explain the situation with confidence if you have solid references.
- Convincing VIPs, difficult passengers and company executives may require assertiveness. Being assertive doesn’t however mean being aggressive or arrogant: just be positive and firm.
- VIPs and company executives can be quite vocal: "We don’t care about what you are saying, let's go now!" It takes courage to argue with a demanding boss. It also takes courage to admit that you do not have the skills or experience to perform certain missions.
- Beware of the risks of flying in certain environments, for instance in mountainous areas, poor weather, downgraded visual environment, with marginal fuel or with marginal aircraft or personal conditions. Prepare your flight thoroughly!
Some things to include in the passenger briefing
In addition to the standard safety briefing, it could be useful to also include the following:
- Advise passengers to have an alternate plan, in case the flight should be delayed or cancelled.
- Help your passengers to understand that there are certain rules and regulations that the pilot must follow to ensure the safety of the flight.
- Follow the instructions of the pilot and other crew members – their decision is final and required to ensure a safe flight.
- Instruct passengers not to distract you during the flight and to keep children and pets in sight at all times.
- Inform them not to touch the windows, including with camera lenses. No camera straps in the front seat.
- If they are seated in the front seat- do not bump the controls or the pilot.
- Invite them however to point out any other aircraft or any other threat (terrain, obstacle, weather, etc.) they think the pilot may have missed.