19th of March 2016: 62 people die in the airplane crash of the flyDubai Boeing 737 near the Russian airport Rostov.
What happened? The weather was pretty bad. The pilots cancelled the first landing attempt due to strong turbulence and went into a holding pattern for two hours before making another attempt which they also aborted. Soon after trying to land for the second time the pilots allegedly lost control over the aircraft which then descended rapidly and crashed to the ground.
23rd January 2012: a shock wave goes through Germany. The drugstore chain Schlecker announces bankruptcy, and as a result, over 30,000 people lose their jobs.
At first sight, these two dramatic events have nothing to do with each other.
I do not want to speculate whether the crash in Rostov happened due to technical defects or human error. The investigation will clarify this. Nor do I want to judge Schlecker’s business strategy, again, others will be more capable of doing so. I am interested in something else. What ensued before? What happened before the crash, what happened before the bankruptcy?
Losses in the hundreds of millions – what took Schlecker so long to finally react to the problem? Why did the pilots stay in a holding pattern for two hours? Two hours in which they burned valuable fuel! Why did they put themselves in such dire straits?
In aviation, there is nothing unusual about a holding pattern. Whoever, on the approach to Frankfurt, had the chance to admire the Spessart from the air for half an hour, knows what a holding pattern is. Too many planes trying to land at the same airport at the same time, the weather is poor, these are all valid reasons why traffic control may command the aircraft to stay on hold. And all this is very safe. However, one must be mindful of a further key-component: the remaining fuel in the tank, which is running low!
Basically, the aircraft fuel is always calculated to last for a possible diversion to another airport, and there must be additional contingency fuel on board as a back-up for at least 45 min to cover all eventualities. But no one prepares for or anticipates a two-hour long holding pattern, especially not if the next suitable airport is only 40 minutes away.
Not to decide is also a decision – but unfortunately, one with a deadly psychological component: we believe doing nothing will prevent anything bad happening to us.
At first, all your options are still open, but the longer you stay in a holding pattern, the more your choices will diminish until you are finally forced to land wherever you are. A diversion becomes impossible due to lack of resources – not enough fuel for the aircraft, or lack of liquidity in the business.
I am not advocating for blind action taking. It is often a suitable option to “sit and wait” things out, but we must be aware that waiting also has consequences. Because we consume our resources, our competitors can strengthen their position, the fellow student gets the job I had my eyes on – and all this is happening while we are waiting and do nothing.
There is old aviation wisdom which says “stay ahead of the aircraft” – make sure your plane will never fly you to a place which you have not yet explored with your brain.
An aircraft is moving distinctively fast, and to permanently plan ahead is, therefore, essential for survival. But what about companies or our personal lives? Of course, nearly everyone does target planning, but for worst-case scenarios, we are not prepared. We often close our eyes to what we do not want to see.
Yet, the solution could be relatively simple: Create a concrete target plan. What precisely do you want to achieve? When do you want to achieve it and in which quality or form? Afterward, make a risk assessment. What could happen? What could hinder you? Which problems could you encounter?
Thirdly, consider your options and which alternatives you have. Which plan B can you pursue, which other option can you take? Most of you will have come this far, but the final step is crucial. Take a look at all your options in terms of time and decide which ones are time critical.
Do you improve your prospects and minimize the risks by deciding to do nothing and when will you reach the turning point where you no longer can but must act?
Again, nothing new actually, but yet, this one easy technique from professional aviation can determine how well you are equipped for the future.