Pilot's Discretion - Flying Opinion
Flying|June 2017

The Tyranny of Efficiency

John Zimmerman

HOW AIRPLANES CAN ACTUALLY HELP US SLOW DOWN

I had to cancel a flight the other day and go airline, and I was mad at myself. Not because I made the wrong decision — a cutoff low aloft meant the weather along my route was really ugly — but because my priorities were out of whack. I had squeezed flying into a narrow window to accomplish a mission, and in the process I had reduced the airplane to nothing more than a tool.

It’s easy to understand why I fell into this trap. After all, it seems like life in the 21st century is all about removing inefficiency from everything possible, whether it’s a company’s supply chain or a family’s schedule. We celebrate UPS drivers for avoiding left turns because it saves a few seconds per trip. Such a relentless focus on efficiency has led to tremendous gains in manufacturing, transportation and engineering — so it’s not always bad.

But when’s the last time you heard an artist or a musician brag about their ruthless efficiency? Is a vacation or a wedding better because it’s efficient? While these questions might seem unrelated to flying, what we do as pilots (especially when it’s for fun and not as a career) has as much in common with an artist as it does an engineer.

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