Minimization [Noun, -]: the action of making something seem less important or smaller than it really is.

Hello, dear friends! I hope you are all keeping safe in these troubled times.

Today, I would like to talk about a special situation that happened to me a few years ago while working at a tower sector.

I was busy handling a few commercial departures when a flight plan popped up on my screen for a GA flight from the airport where I was working to a smaller aerodrome about 2 hours away, along the coast. The day was nice and it certainly sounded like a pleasant idea, to go spend the day at the sea. I could imagine the pilot bringing friends along for a fun day out.

A few minutes later, the light aircraft started up and taxied out to the runway, and the little bit of envy that I had felt earlier came back to me. What a nice occasion for a day out.

The flight however, took a quick unexpected turn when, just after take-off, the pilot called in:

-“Mayday, mayday, mayday, G-ABCD, smoke in the cockpit”

We were trained. The procedure was clear and simple. I acknowledged the distress call while slamming the big, red button that triggered the fire brigade response. But then, as the first emergency vehicles were hurling onto the apron, I quickly became surprised by the calm, almost detached reaction of the pilot:

– “Tower, this is G-ABCD, may we join the left-hand circuit? I would like to make a touch-and-go”

I beg your pardon? You have smoke in the cockpit, your aircraft could be busy catching on fire, and you are requesting a touch and go?

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but if I was in that aeroplane, my first and only preoccupation would be to land as quickly as possible, and get out of there without any other thought.

Well, our pilot seemed far less concerned about the possibly dramatic developments of his current situation, visibly.

-“G-ABCD, confirm you are requesting a touch-and-go? I strongly advise a full stop landing. Emergency vehicles are responding and waiting for you.”

-“Aw… huh, negative, G-ABCD. I would just like to fly one circuit and make a touch-and-go, if everything is OK, we would like to continue to our destination”

This seriously did not make sense. I was so flabbergasted that I asked the pilot to confirm once again. This was the first time (and turned out later to be the only time) that I saw a pilot declare a distress situation and not want to land.

My colleagues started gathering around to see what was going on, and by the time the aircraft reached the end of downwind, the pilot came back to me:

-“Tower, G-ABCD, I am not sure, but I think the smoke has disappeared. We will make a touch-and-go and continue to our destination”

At that same moment, the telephone rang, and it was the school that owned the aircraft. Now it was clear that they heard what was going on, and they were very quick to express their very clear opinion on the matter: tell the pilot to land immediately.

Of course, as air traffic controller, there is very little we can do to force pilots to do something, but this time, I did convince the pilot very easily to land and at least have the aircraft checked out before anything else. So that is what happened, and after parking the aircraft on the apron, the passengers and pilot got off and the aircraft was taken in by a mechanic who quickly discovered that there had indeed been an electrical problem, leading to overheating of a wire.

Ok. This may have not had life-threatening consequences, as the fuse had tripped immediately, but it made me think about how people can quickly get goal-stubborn. Somehow, the pilot’s mind was set on going to the sea with his friends, and nothing seemed to get in the way. Nothing could make him change his mind, however frightful the deterrent.

Well, my friends, this situation taught me one thing, at least. Please, by all means, even when you have the greatest plan in mind, if anything goes wrong, even the tiniest little baby hiccup, stand back and consider the whole enterprise with a calm head and be realistic. Our pilot and his friends quickly took another aircraft and still made their fun trip to the sea. And safely, this time. Reaching your goal at all costs should never, ever blind your sight on safety. Trust me when I say that I have seen dramatic things happening because somebody was stubborn and ignored the warning signs.

Fly safe and until next week!