If you’ve never piloted an aircraft, you might be surprised to hear that most of the hours pilots spend in the cockpit are predictable, uneventful, and routine. In fact, it is easy for pilots to become complacent in this environment, as familiarity breeds complacency.
You’ve no doubt experienced this while driving. If you regularly drive a particular route to or from work or the grocery store, for instance, you find that your conscious mind eventually goes on autopilot leaving your sub-conscious mind to alert you of unexpected or emergent situations. You may not even recall much of the drive when you get to your destination, as your conscious thoughts were probably focused on something other than your driving.
In the cockpit, as in life, your mettle is tested when the unpredictable happens, when you are jarred from routine-induced reverie into an adrenaline-fueled, hyper-conscious state. I’ve had this happen to me several times in the cockpit, when an alternator belt shredded at 10,000 feet just outside of Washington D.C.’s highly regulated airspace, when a door popped open in a rain and snow storm at night over the Appalachian mountains on the Georgia-Tennessee border, and when my landing gear lights reported that my gear wasn’t retracting on my climb out from Key West. Believe it or not, none of these incidents was an emergency, but each did command my full attention!
As a pilot, I’ve fortunately never had to make a “mayday,” or emergency call. I would if circumstances called for it, because the air traffic control system has many tools at its disposal to help a pilot out during emergencies, and as a pilot, I have an obligation to use all tools at my disposal to ensure a safe flight. Moreover, dying out of pride, for fear of some extra paperwork makes no sense to me.
On this May Day, however, I would like to issue a “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” on behalf of my fellow aviators.
This is a May Day like no other. We’re faced with an unprecedented number of mayday calls, not from pilots in the air, but from pilots grounded by the economic turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and from pilots who are braving the skies to keep our economy alive. They need your support, recognition, and appreciation.
You may consider donating to such organizations as Air Charity Network or Angel Flight Soars, which provide essential services to those in medical need. Otherwise, take a minute to reach out to pilots you may know to see if they are okay. In any case, the aviation industry, like so many others, is facing monstrous headwinds, so please share this with anyone you know whose livelihood is generated in the skies above and give them – at a minimum – a quick word of appreciation and support.