As a helicopter professional, you’re probably familiar with the concepts of rationalization and procedural intentional noncompliance (PiNC).
For example, let’s say you get to the base in the morning. It’s early, cold, and time to start doing your job. One of your medical crewmembers is whipping up some breakfast, and the off-going crew is hanging around, talking about one of the transports that took place during the night.
That mission was the perfect storm of everyone having to bring their A game, a multi-helicopter scene request with a lot of moving pieces. A great example of teamwork and crew coordination within your aircraft and with the other aircraft on scene. High‑fives all around!
In talking about all the excitement, you allow yourself to get out of your routine. Your preflight inspection is subpar, mainly just checking the fluid levels. But hey, you have inspected this aircraft and flown it in the past two days and everything was fine. You don’t pull a fuel sample — it’s a little windy and you don’t want to risk getting fuel on your flight suit. Besides, you have never had a problem with your airport’s fuel.
These small adjustments from standard operating procedures are examples of PiNC — when a person knowingly disregards an established or required procedure. PiNC does not always lead to an accident or incident, but in many cases when a mishap occurs, PiNC turns up as a causal factor.
PiNC is one of the reasons why human error is a factor in 80 percent of aviation accidents. After all, aircraft are machines. They have no feelings or concerns, and they don’t come in tired on Mondays or stressed from dealing with Mom’s hospitalization. Unlike people, aircraft don’t have bad days or good ones, and they don’t mind performing the same task over and over and over. They either perform properly or they don’t.
People, on the other hand, are prone to all of the above. We get tired, grumpy, stressed, and bored. Here is where our brain will let us down or deceive us. It has the ability to rationalize our behavior, to lure us into PiNC.
For example, you may think, “The weather doesn’t meet my personal minimums or the company minimums, but I am not flying very far, so it will be fine.” Or, “I do not need to sump the fuel tanks today because I am in a hurry, and besides, I’ve never found any water in my fuel tanks.” Or even, “I don’t need a work stand to inspect the top side of the rotor blades because our rotor blades are low time and we have never had any cracked blades.”
There are as many rationalizations as there are pilots, mechanics, and days of the year. Accident reports are filled with rationalizations masked by good intentions.
If any of these rationalizations sound familiar, it is because I have been in these positions and know it happens. It takes honest discipline to be in an industry where you are the daily decision-maker, the one who is counted on to do the right thing. Even when no one is watching. Even when it is inconvenient to do so.
I am talking to both pilots and mechanics now. In many professional settings, you have co-workers or a boss to verify your work, to review your decisions. But when your mechanic says he or she performed the rotor blade inspection in accordance with the maintenance manual or the approved aircraft inspection program and signed off on the work in the aircraft logbook, normally no one else validates that statement. The integrity of a certificated aviation professional is the only link between the ink on a document and the safety of an aircraft.
When the pilot says he or she did a preflight inspection of the helicopter, everyone onboard that aircraft presumes the inspection was performed to the established standard and the aircraft is in an airworthy condition. After all, the pilot said so.
We are justifiably proud of being aviation professionals. The other side of that coin is that we must act like professionals — always.
Whether you call it rationalizing or PiNC, let’s do the right thing and do what is required. It will make us better aviators and mechanics. It will strengthen our position with our co‑workers and passengers, and it will encourage our critics to change their opinions.
Politely challenge your comrades to keep the standard high. If they are doing the right thing, they won’t mind.