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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

Since I've started writing for Flight To Success, I have described a couple of close calls. For the uninitiated, you might think that, based on the number of these stories, and with respect to all the other things I've been writing about, close calls are an everyday event. Far from it. In the span of a 30 year aviation career, I have collected plenty of "there I was" stories. But that's simply a matter of exposure. The more you are exposed to the wild nature of aviation, the more probability you will experience first hand how fickle aviation can be. Because of the inevitability of close-calls, I have developed a philosophy: the Theory of Limited Luck.
 A leftover Thunderstorm at Tom's Office
In a nutshell, I figure you are only supplied so much luck. Do you want to use your limited supply of luck needlessly? Of course, your answer is no. This should lead to a certain perspective. I think I need to save as much luck as possible for those times when I unknowingly do stupid things or stuff just happens beyond my control. The reality is, bad stuff will happen to you. The question is, will you be depending on luck to get you out of it?

Here's another reality: There are aviators out there who knowingly live on the edge of the rules and common sense. They knowingly put themselves or others at increased risk by constantly operating beyond the edge of what's allowed. When there is a choice, they may say, "Well, the rules don't say I can't do it!" Then, they will inevitably be the ones to do it. Mostly, they leap before looking. Mostly, their risk management is done as an after thought and it's something along the lines of, "Well, nothing bad happened so it must be okay." I believe the odds will catch up to those guys. It's only a matter of time.

All those times you do your best job as an aviator are saving your luck for the times when you will really need it. All that boring effort fuel planning, checking the weather at your destination and at your alternates, having backup plans and options - it all pays off. Instead of hoping Lady Luck will save your bacon when you barely load enough gas to complete the mission, you don't even test her because you double and triple checked your calculations.

I think non-aviators who see complex flights come together flawlessly and (seemingly) effortlessly have no idea of the true energy required to make such things happen. Because of superior success of making a flight operation work perfectly and with no raised heart-rates, bean-counters may begin to wonder why they spend so much on training, planning, and preparation. In reality, training, planning, and preparation are precisely the reason an operation IS successful. Sometimes, it's really difficult to point out why they're important. Then, when the cuts happen, meaning you can't spend the time to be the best aviator you can be, it's only a matter of time before your limited bag of luck runs out.

I had an instructor in Navigator Training tell me a story when I was new to the whole aviation business. He stood at the front of our class with his arms stretched out like he was holding two bags. He said, "The bag in my right hand is full of luck. Every time you fly, with every mistake you make, a little luck comes out of the luck bag. In the other bag is your air-sense. It's empty. You have no air-sense. You're learning to fly and learning the art of aviation. Every time you fly and you do the right thing, your air-sense bag is filling. Eventually, your luck bag will become empty from a life of inexplicable stuff just happening. You can't predict it. It's not the same for everyone. But, it will happen. Your luck bag will be empty. Hopefully by then, your air-sense bag is full enough to bring you home."




  1. I like the 2 bag analogy. Makes sense (and aligns with my experience). When I teach my students to fly, I see it as part of my job to teach them to fill that air-sense bag without having to draw on the luck bag. You need both....

  2. One might conclude that aviation in inherently safe based on the accident record and knowing some of the folks who are out there with a not-yet-empty bag of luck.

    But instead, that amazing safety record is a testament to the many people who put great effort and care into an activity which can be extremely unforgiving, to MAKE it remarkably safe.


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