The No-Go Decision


I scrubbed a long-planned flight recently. In hindsight, it turned out to be a no-brainer, but it was a difficult decision to make a day ahead of time, especially since it also created some drama and possible ill will. In all, the process by which I made the decision is something of a case study. Let me tell you why.

The mission was a simple day trip from my home field in southwest Florida to a familiar destination in north-central Georgia of 407 nm, planned to take 2+30 one-way. Spend a few hours on the ground visiting with an old friend, grab a late lunch, then hop back home later the same day. The airplane was ready and willing. But the weather wasn’t cooperating as I wanted. The destination airport offered its own challenges. And while I was instrument-current, I wasn’t as proficient with low IFR as I would have liked.

The first big challenge was a cold front moving slowly across the route and spawning convective activity along its frontal boundary. The geography was such that I’d have to go way out of my way—out over the Gulf of Mexico in a single—to get around the convection, or stay over land and pick my way through it. Been there, done that, but I wasn’t mentally ready for that kind of day. The longer I waited, the better the weather would get at both ends and in the middle, but delaying my planned departure for any reason meant I’d have less available time on the ground at my destination, diluting the trip’s purpose and making it less than worthwhile.

The destination airport offered another challenge. One of its runways was closed for construction, which required closing a portion of the remaining one. The relevant Notam offered more than 3000 feet of usable runway. That’s plenty under normal conditions, but the forecast also came with a slight tailwind for landing after a straight-in on the best available approach. The airport’s ILS wasn’t available and the forecast ceiling was right at the RNAV procedure’s minimums. A real risk of missing and diverting existed.

With all that going on, I canceled a day ahead of time. My friend and I rescheduled, and I probably will have completed the planned mission by the time you read this. It will be a good-weather day, where I’ll have many more things working in my favor, not against me.

The next morning, I awoke to localized fog at my home field, creating zero-zero conditions. I could have gotten out legally, but there would have been no margin for error. Not quite the pleasant day in the airplane I had planned. And getting back in that evening wasn’t assured, either.

I made the right call, for the right reasons. I’ll complete the mission, though not on the date originally planned, and I’ll be around for many more just like it.

— Jeb Burnside


  1. Excellent decision!!! I made many similar — and similarly unwelcome — decisions in 45+ years of flying, much of it in Florida and Georgia. I was frequently the “bad guy” when I made the decision, but I always lived to tell about it. Once, much to my mother-in-law’s extreme dismay, I called off a flight home after loading the airplane. Those crosswinds (on the small Kentucky airport’s only runway) just kept getting worse. And when they started exceeding the maximum crosswind numbers in the Mooney owner’s manual, I decided that another day was the safe time to fly. I have succeeded in becoming an old pilot. Just not the rare “old, bold” one.

  2. One of the best pieces of advise I ever received was that all takeoffs are optional. The second bit of good advice is have a solid plan B. The airlines have better machines, a better organization supporting every flight, and (mostly) pilots who are really good at what they do. It isn’t as convenient or fun, but the price of a ticket is very affordable. Ditto a car rental.

  3. I made three such decisions as a VFR pilot, flying a Forney Aircoupe, in my recent trip to and from Oshkosh. I delayed for a day on each of two legs of the trip, and stopped for a day mid-leg on the second leg of my return trip, all because of weather. As a retiree, I didn’t HAVE to be anywhere at a particular time, even though I did miss a family gathering at the end of my return trip that I wanted to attend. My logic was missing one event was MUCH better than the possibility of missing all future events.


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