Perhaps I'm too much a fatalist, but a shudder ran up my spine yesterday morning when I saw the picture, reprinted above, in this newspaper's Virginia Weekly. It shows Gov. Charles S. Robb, left, at work as Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis looks out the window on the flight of a small state-owned plane from Norfolk to Richmond.

How does one put this delicately? Airplanes have a troubling tendency, when severe problems arise, of crashing without the likelihood of survivors. When a governor is aboard a crashed plane along with his constitutional successor, the lieutenant governor, it is not only a tragedy for their families; the state is bereft of the one who should take over. (Constitutionally, next in line behind the lieutenant governor would be Attorney General Gerald Baliles.)

Sure, given modern technology and the skill of state pilots, the odds against a crash happening are unlikely--but . . . Virginia has known the tragedy of a major political figure's death in the not-distant past. Richard Obenshain, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, was killed Aug. 2, 1978, when a plane carrying him from Winchester crashed near Richmond .

Many corporations and government agencies, including the White House, have restrictions against their top people flying together.

"It's a practice of common sense that the president and vice president follow" in traveling separately, the White House press office said.

Robb said through a spokesman that such trips with his lieutenant governor are rare, and that as lieutenant governor he sometimes traveled with governor John Dalton. He said he plans no change in policy.