Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS/John Zimmerman
As a student pilot, sometimes you may be worried about making a mistake: On the radio, breaking some unwritten rule, or upsetting ATC. Whenever possible, we want to say yes, but as much as we like to press the push-to-talk button and calmly proclaim “wilco,” sometimes you simply have to say no. It’s not being a bad pilot; it’s prioritizing safety over convenience. So:
·      Say no to a take-off clearance if you’re not ready: “Cessna 12345, cleared for immediate take-off, traffic on 1 mile final.” It happens all the time at busy airports, but this scenario is packed with subtle pressure to start moving – now. Resist the urge to rush. No matter how much you want to help out, you’re not doing your job as pilot in command if you take off before you’re ready.
·      Say no to “expedite landing” on final if you can’t safely do it. If there’s a faster aircraft behind you ATC may ask you to fly as fast as you can on final in order to keep the spacing acceptable for him. If you have 500 hours in the airplane and can do it, by all means comply. But if you’re on your first solo cross country, you’re under no obligation to accept this request. You might have to turn off final or do a 360, but that’s better than arriving at the threshold high, fast and unstabilised.
·      Say no to “land and hold short” if you’re unsure. You might get issued this instruction at an airport with intersecting runways. If you’re not absolutely certain you can stop short of the crossing runway, and if you haven’t previously studied the chart and briefed the procedure, don’t say yes. The controller may not be happy, but he’ll be a whole lot less happy if you accept but can’t do it.
·      Say no if you really don’t have the airport in sight. “Airport is 12 o’clock, 5 miles, report it in sight.” The controller would love for you to call the airport in sight and get rid of you. Some pilots assume that since the GPS shows the position of the airport, they can simply say yes and keep navigating until right on top of the airport. This trick will probably work 90% of the time, but the one time it doesn’t you’ll really wish you were still talking to ATC! If you don’t have the airport in sight, the answer is no.
·      Say no to an approach clearance if you’re not stabilized. For instrument pilots, the start of an approach is a critical time: the airplane is descending towards terrain and obstacles without visual reference. If you’re not certain of your position – and if the airplane isn’t configured and slowed down properly – accepting an approach clearance and chasing the needles will not make things better. Ask for a delay vector and go back out to re-intercept the final approach course. Good landings are the result of good approaches, so insist on starting them the right way.
·      Say no to a crossing restriction you can’t make. Another concern for IFR pilots, and occasionally VFR pilots, is when ATC asks you to pass a certain waypoint at or below a certain altitude. Often this is a simple clearance to comply with, but sometimes ATC asks for the impossible. If you work out you would need to maintain 2000 ft/min descent, you probably need to let ATC know it’s not possible. This isn’t the end of the world – just be honest and let them come up with a plan B.
·      Say no to a more experienced pilot when you’re uncomfortable. Not all pressure comes from ATC; sometimes other pilots are guilty too. Years ago, as a brand new Private Pilot, I was staring intently at the weather maps when a much more experienced pilot, in an effort to be helpful, leaned over my shoulder and said: “it looks worse than it really is – I think you’ll be fine.” I ended up taking off, but I shouldn’t have. I had let the older pilot’s opinion influence me, substituting his personal minimums for mine. Never again. As PiC any decision is your decision, and sometimes that means politely thanking the other pilot and saying no to yourself.
·      Say no to pushy passengers if the weather is marginal. Passengers can also offer their opinion, and this is tricky, since we love to show off our piloting skills and “get the job done.” But general aviation flying is supposed to be fun, and if the weather doesn’t look fun it’s your job as PIC to say no. It may be disappointing, but it’s the right call – no matter who the passenger is.

So use your PIC authority wisely and remember, if you’re ever unsure or uncomfortable you have every right to say no. 

Tony BirthComment