Every 9 months I have to attend continuing qualification at our airline’s training facility. The two-day event is comprised of different full-flight simulator training sequences, briefings, and sometimes classroom instruction. Whether done under an Advanced Qualification Program (AQP) or traditional Part 121 “Subpart N” training and checking, pilots need to demonstrate at these events that they are proficient in all procedures and maneuvers.
A big part of having a successful recurrent training event is preparation. In my experience, that preparation begins in how you perform every day on the real flight line — executing normal every day flight operations at a high level of airmanship and professionalism makes performance on check rides a cinch. Here are four ways you can take your CQ’s, PC’s, RFT’s, or any recurrent event to the next level.
I hope you watched the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket yesterday by SpaceX. It made history as the largest rocket ever to be launched, and demonstrated that SpaceX is very close to its goal of reaching Mars. Besides the spectacle of the giant spacecraft launching from Cape Canaveral, SpaceX has developed technology that allows it to recover and reuse its rocket boosters by landing them back on the surface through controlled flight. Falcon Heavy required three separate booster cores in order to launch yesterday, and the two outer cores landed back on Cape Canaveral successfully. The center core, however, did not make it.
Elon Musk, founder, CEO and lead design engineer for SpaceX, gave a press conference to discuss and debrief what happened. I found the way he spoke about the successes and shortfalls to be inspiring. Additionally, I picked up on some ideas on how we can improve how we debrief our own flight missions, and I am happy to share them with you.
I will never forget the first time someone handed me a pilot contract. I was a new-hire at Mesaba Airlines and we had just had the segment of indoc reserved for our union reps to come talk to us. They handed out membership registration forms as well as fresh copies of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Mesaba and its pilots.
On break, I was flipping through the pages of the contract while waiting for a turn at the ice cream machine (we were lucky enough to attend new-hire ground school at a Days Inn in a conference room near the pool). “Don’t even try to understand that thing,” one of the Captain upgrades in my class said. “They write it all confusing on purpose so that they can bend all the rules.” That’s when I set my mind to reading the contract cover to cover.
Airline pilot jobs are won in a highly competitive market. There are thousands of applicants vying to get on with carriers as soon as they possibly can, as seniority means everything in this industry. Obviously, they will be trying everything to get an interview, or get connected with people that may have some influence on whether or not they will get the nod. Believe it or not, despite claims of a pilot shortage (whether it is soon to come, or whether we are in it now), airlines are saying “no thanks” to hundreds of pilot applicants every week. And there is a very basic and common theme among the applicants that are turned down — a lack of respect.
It’s almost hard to think that we can demonstrate a lack of respect when we are trying so very hard to make the best impression we can. But the fact remains that some of the most seemingly innocent actions can be interpreted as indicative of a lack of respect. I have spoken with a few of the pilots who are involved with the interview process at my airline, and they have all indicated that candidates who carry themselves with a respectful attitude have the highest chances of success in the job selection process. Besides their input, I have my own experiences with pilots who aspire to get hired with my carrier, but right in front of me have proven they have cut their chances by saying certain things or telling me a story that I felt demonstrated a lack of respect.
If you are a fan of the movie Office Space, you may remember how Peter took down the wall of his cubicle in order to get a view. After receiving his managerial assignment, it was a self-empowering move. It underscored the value of his upgrade in status at Initech.
I thought of that scene after climbing out over Manhattan one night. My F/O said, “We have the best office view, bar none!” I couldn’t disagree. It was a clear night, and despite the bright lights of Times Square below, the stars were quite visible above. It gave me pause to consider that, as pilots, we don’t have the typical “office” that many professionals enjoy. Below us were countless skyscrapers and office buildings where people from across the commercial spectrum had claim to “corner offices”, or “offices with a view.” Many of them had direct reports that were not so lucky — while they had natural light and a view, others were stuck in cubicles.
But one thing that Peter Gibbons in Office Space didn’t want was all the responsibility that went with his new status. He didn’t want to be bogged down with supervising others doing task work. Despite the charisma the consultants saw in Peter, it didn’t chalk up to true leadership skill. He didn’t want the work — he just wanted the view.
Coming down the jetbridge, the gate agent was clearly under stress. The flight was already delayed, and now if it didn’t get off the gate soon, it could cause the next inbound flight and turnaround to get behind as well. She marched right onto the airplane and up to the flight deck. “Captain, any update? We need this gate very soon for an inbound. Can we at least board and get you off the gate?”
The first officer rolled his eyes at the request. They had been waiting for crucial information from maintenance control on how to proceed after receiving an odd combination of system status messages. It bothered him that she kept bugging them and pushing them to go. “You know, we are still waiting for maintenance, like we told you before?” the F/O snapped.
The captain raised her hand slightly to keep her F/O from exasperating the gate agent further. What she would say and do next would display the level of leadership she had within her and affect the flight, her crew, and people she didn’t even know.
There I was, cruising along above the plains of the upper midwest at FL360. The bright, cloudless skies illuminated the fields below as the sun reflected randomly from tiny points in the towns dotting the landscape. My first officer turned to me and said, “How do you build rapport with people you hardly know? Leading perfect strangers seems impossible.”
It was an odd way to break the silence, but he had a great question, and a statement that needed course correction. We launched into a great conversation that eventually gave rise to the basics of the leadership model I write about in my book, Pilots In Command: Your Best Trip, Every Trip. And, it all started with what it means to “build rapport”.
Image from Lufthansa Flight Training
21 August 2017 Weekly Debrief
- A Word on Vigilance
- Eclipse Mania! Will You Be Flying?
- The “A” in IMSAFE
- Tight Quarters at JFK Causing Problems Again (Always)
Every trip I fly, there is always the question of what is going to happen (or not happen) socially during the layover. Sometimes, it’s not even an issue — either the entire crew is dead tired, or the weather is too disgusting, or the layover is simply too short to have some personal time and social time all included.
But for times when the opportunity is right, it can seem like a no-brainer. And the inevitable question always comes up at some point prior to each crewmember heading off to their respective hotel rooms:
It is inevitable, especially given our busy skies and the prevalence of inclement weather to slow things down at busy airports, that airline pilots will have to deal with delays that are imposed by air traffic control.
Staying ahead of these delays is a crucial skill for pilots. By keeping yourself, your customers, and the co-workers working your flight informed with the most reliable and updated information regarding delays, your flight will operate more smoothly and possibly not suffer as much of a delay in the long run.