Friday, April 19, 2024

With Altitude and Preparation, You Can Avoid A Financial Disaster

In 2008, an Air Canada Airbus 330 flying from Toronto to Lisbon lost power over the Atlantic due to a fuel leak. Fortunately, Captain Robert Piché and First Officer Dirk DeJager were both very experienced flyers with thousands of hours in the air. When the incident happened, they had two things on their side—altitude and preparation.

After both engines flamed out, the Airbus became a 200-tonne glider with limited maneuverability. Piche and DeJager began a well-documented descent that became the longest glide of any commercial airliner in history. Yet, these guys didn’t freak out. They had no intention of dying that day. They stayed cool, got on the radio and located an airport in the Azores, off the coast of Portugal. They had one shot at landing safely at the Lajes airport.

You can bet they were doing some complicated math on their cell phones. No fuel. One shot at saving their lives and the lives of everyone on board. And think about the people at the airport that day. If these guys missed the runway, the death toll could multiply.

They did it. They glided over the ocean, slowly losing altitude with every passing mile and managing to keep the jetliner on course.


Every decision you make about life, and money over the next few years will either buy you time or bring you closer to a crash.

They had 39,000 feet of altitude to work with when things went horribly wrong. That bought them time to react. Altitude saved the crew and passengers on the Air Bus. It can save you, too, if you embrace the idea that every decision you make about life, and money over the next few years will either buy you time or bring you closer to a crash.

If the AirBus had been flying 200 feet above the ocean when it lost power, it would have been an airline disaster. End of story. End of passengers. Families would mourn and the media would blame the airline but none of the attention would bring those people back. No amount of preparation and training would have helped. No one could have saved the crew and passengers at that low altitude.

Wealth and security are no different. As long as you are living week-to-week or month-to-month, and not investing in your future, you are flying too close to the waves, too close to the treetops. Any loss of power can cause you to crash fast.

On the other hand, altitude is something that you start to create the moment you start saving a little more money and exploring ways to protect what you have. Altitude gives you time to react when life throws a sucker punch and you find yourself out of work or an injury keeps you on the sidelines. Altitude also gives you the chance to say ‘yes,’ if life serves up an opportunity to volunteer abroad, take a cooler job with a smaller salary, spend more time with aging parents or help the kids without going further into debt. Insert your biggest financial worry ‘here’ and then imagine how altitude could carry you to safety.

It’s not easy to gain and maintain altitude at any age. In the case of big planes, it takes an enormous amount of energy, generated by big engines, burning a fantastic amount of fuel. As you get older, creating some altitude between you and the treetops requires a different kind of energy. It takes mental discipline, commitment to savings, maybe some rethinking about the dusty old financial plan you got from the guy at the bank when interest rates were still in the double digits. Maybe it’s time stop chasing investment wins and learn more about risk-free investments.

Think about altitude and what it would be like to have a little glide time if something goes wrong. Is there really anything you could buy that would provide that kind of comfort heading into the best time of your life? Whatever your next financial goal is, perhaps you can now find some motivation in a plane in danger of crashing.

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John Ellis
John Ellis
John Ellis is a freelance writer and partner in murmuration, a Toronto-based communication company.