Generally speaking, information is a good thing. There are, however, exceptions to that rule. Big exceptions.
Sometimes a little information can be a bad thing, especially when it upsets the people flying with you in your airplane.
This came up yesterday in the most interesting context.
I was up at Cessna touring the new Cessna Citation M2, the latest iteration of Cessna’s remarkable CJ series. Sitting in the cabin of the mockup, I got the chance to talk with a couple members of the smart and talented team that put the finishing touches on this latest CJ.
The folks who are in charge of putting together the cabin entertainment and information package gave me a great demo of the new system. It features the ability to stream music and entertainment wirelessly to your iPad, smartphone or other wireless capable device, so you don’t need little displays in the back and all the wiring and complexity they necessitate. All you need is your iPhone. Cessna’s calls the new cabin app "Clairity," which fits. It uses fiber optic cable and crunches the data at each seat, so installation costs are small and the weight is even smaller. It’s cool stuff. There’s even a moving map app that shows passengers exactly where they are and how long it will take for them to arrive at their destination.
The really interesting stuff came when a journalist at the press event asked if it was possible to superimpose weather graphics on the moving map. The guy from Cessna in charge of creating such cabin technology said that, in fact, every customer who had been through the back of the airplane had asked if that were possible. Every passenger, he said, wants it.
I couldn’t help but immediately ask if “Every pilot who had been through the front of the airplane had asked they NOT make weather available.” The Cessna guys broke out laughing. Yes, they said, just about every pilot had made that request, as well.
The concern, of course, is that the passengers would see big storm cells and immediately want to assist the pilots with navigation. Or, when flying in very bumpy air, they would get very nervous, or maybe even panic, when seeing a lot of red on their personal display.
It was a good laugh, but it brought up a subject that we pilots have to think about: how much detail to go into when discussing the safety of flight with passengers.
In a small airplane with a big display, like my Cirrus, the best bet is probably to share freely and openly, telling your passengers that there are some big cells ahead but we’re going to be navigating well around them. So while it might be bit bumpy, we’re perfectly safe. Something like that.
Sometimes you do what you have to do to make your passengers happy. Once, when he was small, my son became very agitated as we were climbing through some bumpy clouds on our way up to cruise altitude. His concern was justified. I wasn’t flying the airplane! It was, of course, on autopilot, which I explained carefully to him. When that didn’t work, I simply held onto the yoke and made believe that I was the one doing the flying.
That did the trick: My son immediately relaxed, and Otto didn’t seem to mind sharing the credit.