A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

December 2009

The Old, Bold and Rich Pilot

I recently read an article about how pilots, particularly VFR pilots, are more capable of survival in hard economic times than the average Joe the non-pilot. The author reasoned that we’re comfortable with uncertainties like bad weather, that we’ll poke our noses into the cloud, take the chance attempting to break out on the other side into sunshine, or to reach a destination. Supposedly we’re more capable of dealing with uncertainties than most people. It’s about the accomplishment, the satisfaction of a job well done, of taking a risk and surviving. The risk referred to is a financial investment.

Stereotyping people is always dangerous. I don’t like to do it, but I gave this idea a lot of thought. Maybe I missed the point of the article, but I’ll comment anyway. I know many pilots who venture just a bit further into the changing weather attempting to find the hole. Some are better at it than others, and some won’t even go there. You might think that the high-time flyers, the ones with all the knowledge, experience and good judgment would be the leaders heading through the clouds. But I doubt it. Time after time, the accident reports that conclude with “theVFR-pilot continued on into IMC” involve low-timers. Of course there are exceptions, but statistically, go ahead and count ‘em. It’s a fact. Besides, if it were true that these high-timers were also bold investors, they should all be awfully rich.

In the relatively short career I’ve enjoyed flying VFR in sparsely settled areas, with questionable weather briefings, little support from any FIS, and no reporting stations to count on, I admit to having a lot of luck on my side. I would consider myself a ‘low timer’ but what sets my time apart from most other fellows doing this work is I’m older than most. In general terms, your advanced age brings wisdom, experience, knowledge, and caution. Most of us older pilots I dare say, have the will to LIVE, probably because mortality looms closer than it does for the young guys. Also, we’ve been there and done that. We’ve been to more funerals of friends and relatives, we’ve sympathized with survivors, and imagined the morbid thought that we could be next. Our invincibility ended years ago.

Poking your nose into cloud searching for the hole, has its place. You can’t say absolutely don’t do it, particularly when you’re on a payroll and someone expects a certain effort on behalf of his pilots to get the flight done. It’s a balancing act between safety and risk. If the pilot squeaks through the storm and exits his airplane with knees shaking and his stomach in knots, he completed his flight safely, but sometimes it’s ordinary, blind luck.

There were times along the way when I bit off more than I was comfortable with. We all have. The ‘cowboys’ among us however will do it again and again. After a particularly scary ride one day, although I made it through, I was angry at myself for pushing my personal limits. I could have killed myself and cost my employer a lot of money.

Getting back to the point of all this, to say that pilots are better equipped to stay invested in a falling stock market because of their experience in deteriorating weather, would be a bit of a stretch. Risking cash in an investment is simply not the same as risking their job or life flying around in bad weather. I see no connection. I have poked the prop into cloud but it doesn’t mean I’ve done well dabbling in the stock market. Far from it. Decision making is an individual art whether with your life or your money. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is a difference.

Back to main page