The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) stated in a 2017 article that, “Weather is a contributing factor in 35 percent of general aviation accidents.” This bit of information can lead us to the first suggestion for avoiding over one-third of plane crashes. Only fly on sunny windless days. Can it be this simple? What if the world of air travel can’t function on only the pretty days? What if people and packages still need to arrive on time even if conditions are less than perfect? Don’t some flights land safely even on days when the weather is bad? Yes, they do.
In the same article mentioned above, the NBAA continued to point out that in most weather-related accidents, “ a failure to recognize deteriorating weather continues to be a frequent cause or contributing factor.” This is to say that it generally takes more than one condition for a plane to go down. The first is something beyond our control, like bad weather. The second condition is a more human factor, like someone’s failure to recognize that the weather has become hazardous. The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations says that “Some weather-related accidents are founded on the pilot’s lack of knowledge of weather theory and/or weather services,” and “Some happen because the pilot failed to obtain a good weather briefing, or to heed the warning signs they discovered in a weather briefing.”
This brings us to a second (and perhaps more practical) solution to our problem. Employ pilots who make better decisions in bad weather. The quotes above have a common feature that is the failure to acknowledge and react to the fact that the weather is bad. You can’t fly as if every day is sunny and windless. This leads us back to one of my favorite topics... making better decisions.
There may be no less-forgiving flight than one that goes into space. There is no room for error in a NASA space shuttle launch. It is for this reason that many astronauts are trained through months of routine and repetition. For some, this even means eating the same breakfast every single day. This provides a couple of potential benefits. First, it eliminates the need to make a decision in the morning thus reducing the risk of decision fatigue later in the day. The second benefit of a precisely repeated structure is that anything out of the ordinary will be more likely to stand out and potentially set off some warning signals in the minds of the astronauts. This lessens the chance of behaving like a pilot who experiences the “failure to recognize” a problem. The second piece of this puzzle is what to do once you acknowledge the existence of a negative condition. To answer this question, we return to training and repetition. Having spent months responding to drills and exercises that replicate mishaps, the proper reactions should be almost automatic to a well-trained astronaut. There is a saying that has been adapted for use by military organizations like the Navy Seals, as well as first responders like police and firefighters. It is an altered version of the words of the Greek poet Archilochus. The modern translation is as follows…
"UNDER PRESSURE, YOU DON'T RISE TO THE OCCASION, YOU SINK TO THE LEVEL OF YOUR TRAINING.”
In closing, I beg your indulgence while I bring this concept back to my world of finance. Over the recent decade of solid investment returns, it has become easy for people to think that the sky over their portfolios will always be windless and sunny. This type of overconfidence seems to appear before every negative market event. A person who has only ever flown a paper airplane suddenly wakes up with near certainty that they can handle a jumbo jet. Even the sudden Covid-related downturn from a year ago didn’t provide more than some short-lived turbulence and has already become a distant memory. I am not saying that bad weather is around the corner. Only a fool declares such things with any degree of certainty. What I am saying is that you should choose your pilot carefully. Find one that understands that stormy days happen and has a plan for when they do.