Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, December 1, 2004

No Offense

Keeping quiet may be the safest tactic, but it’s not always the best

This whole ego thing is an integral part of aviating, and most of the time, it’s a known cause of accidents, which brings us to another point: When is it a good time, and how should we approach people in order to point out that they may be doing something unsafe, inconsiderate or just plain stupid?

Most people know that this can’t be done, so we seldom try it. By pointing out another’s mistakes, we’re showing that we have more experience and more knowledge than he does, which may or may not be the case. Regardless, the very instant someone opens his mouth and says something like, “You know, you’d find it much easier if you…,” we’ve cast huge doubt on both his knowledge and ability, even though we don’t mean to, and assumed that we have the superior background and the right to point out his shortcomings. If that’s not a recipe for a poke in the nose, then I don’t know what is. All I know is that no one likes an uninvited know-it-all.

After all, you can’t just walk up to someone and correct them. Well, Chuck Yeager or Patty Wagstaff can get away with it, but the rest of us can’t. Even if they really know that you’re a high-time, wildly talented, unbelievably capable flight instructor, they’re still going to resent your advice. Unsolicited criticism is never welcome. Never!

But there have been times when I just barged right in. Like all of us, I’ve seen pilots do things that clearly show that they don’t understand the potentially severe consequences of what they’ve just done, so I poke my nose into someone else’s business. And, of course, it’s the same response: “Just who do you think you are that you can tell me what to do?”

In that kind of a given situation, it’s quite impossible to establish anything credible that would be strong enough to win the argument. But I say, “I’m just a flight instructor who doesn’t want to tell your wife you just made her a widow because you did something stupid.”

When a life hangs in the balance, we aren’t doing anyone a favor by holding our tongue. It’s far better to get someone red-faced than avoid the confrontation and let fate take its course.

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & A, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his Website at


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