Relying on Air Traffic Control

Relying on Air Traffic Control

My colleague Brandon and I flew from Boston to Binghamton, New York for a meeting with one of our largest clients. As the skies are not always sunny, we spent a lot of time checking the weather forecasts, hoping to avoid a five-hour predawn drive. On the flight out, we zig-zagged to avoid some rain showers (no thunderstorms were forecasted). On the flight home, we again maneuvered around some heavier downpours and “shot” an instrument approach down to minimums at my home field (a cloud ceiling less than 600 feet).

Relying on Air Traffic Control

Brandon, who had only flown with me once before on a short scenic flight, said to me: “Now I really understand your flight planning analogy with retirement planning.”

Some of the parallels are obvious. Once you start, you cannot add more “fuel.” Weather (and markets) is often different from forecasts, and sometimes you might have to choose between flying through weather or taking a long detour that may require you to land short of your desired destination.

Perhaps the most compelling parallel to me is that I had access to a variety of experts, starting with professional weather briefers on the ground to Air Traffic Control (ATC) in the air. Although I spend hundreds of dollars to have NEXRAD weather in the cockpit, Air Traffic Controllers have better weather at their fingertips. They were also able to pass along Pilot Reports (PIREPS in pilot lingo) that two small planes had flown through the area of precipitation that I was about to penetrate and reported smooth air.

Although as Pilot in Command, I had the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the flight and the best view of the actual conditions (when we were not in the clouds). Having ATC work with me to get me safely to my destination was not only comforting but enhanced my chances of landing safely.

Finding yourself in stormy weather in a small airplane is extremely stressful (do not ask me how I know), but having access to resources committed to the safety of your journey greatly increases the odds of a safe outcome.

For our flight, I told Brandon that we might not be able to get all the way home, and that we might need to land at another airport to wait out the weather or rent a car to drive the rest of the way. We had four and a half hours of fuel for an 80-minute flight, which gave us plenty of options. We had a Plan B and a Plan C, with the outline of a Plan D.

Do you have someone you trust helping to map out your retirement so that you arrive safely at your destination?

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