With dark clouds, heavy rain and marginal visibility, the weather was lower than I like for flying over the Smokey Mountains. Hour after hour of updating radar did not yield the forecasted improvement. My friend Jim is also my insurance agent. Being concerned about any possible get-home-itis, he joined me in the FBO lobby, luring me to postpone takeoff and remain overnight.
"If you stay, I'll take you out for a really nice dinner," he promised. "I can deliver you to a motel and arrange for a discount."
After more discussion, Jim offered another alternative: "You can drive my car home, and I'll deliver your plane to your airport and retrieve my car when the weather clears up."
Seeing that I was not ready to be swayed, he said, "I'm going to fire up my laptop and work in the FBO lobby, so I'll be right here when you make up your mind."
With that, he walked to the far corner and busied himself in work.
Jim didn't usurp my pilot-in-command authority -- he didn't tell me what to do. He never attempted to analyze the weather or my decisions. He never interjected what he would do. He simply removed any and all inconvenience in postponing my takeoff. I learned a valuable lesson. As instructors, we often fall into the trap of trying to influence pilots into doing what we think they should do -- and it's not always welcomed. Jim taught me a more subtle approach. It was respectful, low-key, yet very effective. A half-hour later, the FBO computer's radar view revealed a break in the line of storms, and I walked out to my aircraft. Takeoff was uneventful and I was soon flying in clear skies with a clear conscience.
Arlynn McMahon, MCFI, SPE, ATP Training Centers Manager, Aero-Tech Inc., Lexington, KY., 2009 Instructor of the Year, FAA. McMahon is also a member of SAFE (Society of Aviation and Flight Educators).