During my career in the US Air Force I had opportunity to observe many remarkably successful as well as less than successful pilots and military officers. The successful ones weren’t perfect in their job performance; but, they learned from their mistakes. They demonstrated humility and the propensity of admitting when they were wrong and strove to learn appropriate lessons that would ensure they’d not repeat their error, even when, and especially when, the error was significant.
Although not unheard of, a professional pilot, civilian or military, inadvertently landing at the wrong airport occasionally happens and carries with it a warranted significant stigma. Two such recent incidents highlight this stigma. In early December 2013 the pilots of a cargo-configured Boeing 747 landed on the single 6,101 foot runway of Colonel James Jabara Airport in Wichita, Kansas instead of the intended landing airfield, McConnell Air Force Base which consists of two 12,000 foot runways. Earlier this very week the crew of a Southwest Airline Boeing 737 mistakenly landed on the short 3,738 foot runway of M. Graham Clark - Taney County, Branson, Missouri instead of their intended 7,140 foot landing runway at the Branson Airport. The Southwest crew safely stopped their B737 within an unsettlingly short distance of the runway end thus averting the significant potential hazard of departing the end of the runway which is situated above a ravine abutting an active US highway.
During my career as a military pilot a fellow officer landed his USAF aircraft at the wrong airfield during a week-long deployment. This professional officer readily admitted his error and took steps to ensure he would not make the same mistake again. Despite the corrective actions he initiated himself he was summarily disciplined by the boss. Our squadron commander temporarily “grounded” him as I suspect the Southwest and B747 cargo pilots who recently landed at the wrong airfield will be not only by their employers but also the FAA.
What is to become of these professional pilots who’ve made such egregious failures in performance of their piloting duties? Are their careers as professional pilots over? Although the young officer I knew who landed at the wrong airfield as a USAF pilot was temporarily removed from flying status, after a period of retraining, discipline, retesting and flying checkride he regained his pilot flight status and went on to serve an honorable, successful career. We’ll likely never know the fate of the errant B747 cargo and Southwest pilots.
Whether the wayward pilots who recently landed at the wrong airfields in Wichita and Branson will likewise recover their flight status we may not know. But, one thing we do know—all of us are prone to failure and error. Though we may always strive to do our best, no one is immune from failure. When we make mistakes, whether insignificant or egregious, what recovery path will we chose? If we follow the example of my fellow Air Force pilot by humbling ourselves and submitting to the discipline that will surely come and make adjustments to ensure no recurrence of the same error, our chances of recovery are great. However, if we refuse to accept responsibility for our failure we will likely not benefit from correction whether from outside us or from within.
When faced with failure, I encourage you to humble yourself, admit you’re wrong, establish your own corrective steps as well as accepting them from others, considering such correction as from a loving father.
11 My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord
Or loathe His reproof,
12 For whom the Lord loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.
You can resist correction or cooperate in your recovery and future success. Which path will you chose?