Professionalism in Flying: Thoughts on taking your flying to the next level

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Professionalism in Flying: Aviation Professionalism is not the exclusive domain of the airline, corporate, or military pilots. It is an attitude or a state-of-mind that drives decision-making and actions, whether you are flying for-hire or not. Any pilot can fly as a professional regardless of their background.  Also, the equipment or the type of operation has no bearing on the concept of professionalism.

So what defines a professional pilot?

  1. Always striving to improve
    • Looking to execute the perfect flight
    • Keeping skills sharp and not accepting mediocrity
  2. Doing the right thing even when no one is looking
    • What would folks think if they read about something I did
    • Not exposing yourself to risks even if you think you won’t get caught
  3. Evaluating risks and weighing those against rewards
    • Forming a plan for risks (no flight is risk free)
    • Asking the right questions- would I do this with my family onboard
  4. Standing up for what is right, even if unpopular
    • Not giving in to peer pressure
    • Speaking out if someone you know is endangering themselves or others
  5. Leave your ego at the door
    • The best pilots are humble
    • Always eager to learn
    • Accepting criticism
    • Knowing his/her limitations

How does this apply to me?
We can apply each of the professional tenets above to our everyday flying.

Hard work and Continuous Improvement
The quote from Thomas Jefferson is applicable here; “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”

If we are lazy in our approach to flying our results will show it. Examples include; inadequate preflight, not keeping the airplane on centerline (takeoff or landing), lack of heading and or altitude control, etc – just generally poor airmanship. This is not to say that every flight should be like a check ride- you should relax and enjoy the view, but make sure you CAN fly precisely on command. True professionals work very hard at this.

Doing the Right Thing
It always amazes me to see how professionalism starts to break down when no one is looking – tells you something about how we are wired. The true professional won’t allow the ‘Dennis the Menace’ to come out to play,  but it takes self-discipline. How would your family feel if you killed yourself or someone else putting on an impromptu air show performance at the quiet grass strip? Keep these things in mind when you are out there.  The “hey yawl, watch this!” mentality has no place in our sport.

Risk & Reward
When you strap in for that next flight, make sure you have looked at all the risks and looked for opportunities to eliminate or mitigate as many risks as possible. Do I have a way out if something goes wrong? This can apply to a local nice day jaunt or a long cross-country across three time zones. While everyone’s skill level and risk tolerance is different the point is, did you consider everything?

Standing Up
A professional will have the courage of his convictions to raise his hand if he sees something wrong. This is where a little diplomacy comes in handy. No one needs, or wants, a self-appointed airport junior policeman in their face because they don’t like the way you taxi. Discretion is the better part of valor here, but if you truly believe someone could get hurt or worse you owe it to him or her to bring it up discretely.  I would run my concerns by a trusted peer first to make sure I not off base. If the subtle hint doesn’t work, next steps are up to you.

Another element that applies here is not relenting to peer pressure. Please don’t use this as an excuse to not try new things or expand your horizons. The point is a professional won’t let anyone talk him/her into doing something unsafe.

The Ego
Pilots are often able to do what they do because of their ego. Self-confidence in flying is essential, but an over inflated ego is a recipe for disaster.  Note the difference between arrogant and egotistical -an arrogant pilot may talk about how good he is, an egotistical pilot actual thinks he’s that good. The ego can talk us into writing checks our abilities and/or equipment can’t cash. It will also impede learning, since you already know it all!

This overall lack of humility often leads to a breakdown in professionalism on many levels, “I can handle it!” “I wont get caught!” “What do they know that I don’t know?”

Professionals always strive for humility in their flying.

Final Thoughts
Professionalism can be defined in many ways, but we hope the points raised in this document will help you fly more safely and responsibly well into the future.

by Brent

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