As everyone who knows me knows, I’m a stark, raving, aviation and flying addict. Fortunately, I have a “real world” job that enables me to indulge in my lunacy. So, while thinking about what to post next on this blog, I figured a post that connects my “hobby” and my real job is warranted.

So, read on, dear reader…

Always have a backup plan

One of the first things that pilots are taught is to always assume that every takeoff may result in an engine failure and, therefore, an emergency landing. One of the requirements that the FAA has for flights “away from the home airport” is for the pilot to plan for an alternative airport and to be prepared to divert there, if needed.

The takeaway is simple: Always have an alternative in mind and be ready to use that alternative, if the situation demands it.

You are (or should be) always learning

There is a saying in the aviation community that your pilot’s license is a “license to learn.” In fact, many pilot examiners will actually say this to a pilot who has just earned his/her wings. This is very true. Flying is about continually learning. The reality is that you embark upon the path of mastery of your “craft” only after you’ve actually earned your wings. You learn new, and more efficient ways of doing things; you learn how your fellow pilots perform certain maneuvers; you probably decide to do your instrument rating to learn how to fly through clouds; every two years, you go through a learning exercise to pass what’s called a “BFR” - a Biennial Flight Review.

In real life, too, it is imperative for a person to be continuously learning. New technologies come up, the world creates new ways of solving old problems; and even new urban slang is developed every day. A savvy person will ensure that he or she stays abreast of what is new and exciting in his or her chosen career path.

Know your limitations

A common phrase you will hear among pilots is “personal minimums”. While this can refer to the state of a pilot’s bank balance, it really refers to the fact that each pilot needs to understand his or her limitations and establish a set of criteria that they will meet before decided to take off. Very often, these “personal minimums” are more conservative than what the FAA prescribes and, more often than not, flying only after meeting these personal minimums is what has kept a pilot alive.

In real life, too, it is important, nay imperative, for a person to understand his or her limitations. While it is good to challenge oneself in order to grow, it is also important not to “bite off more than you can chew”. If a task is too challenging, remember that you can always ask for help, or assemble a team that has complimentary skills to yours so that you can, together, obtain a successful outcome.

It’s OK to ask for help. Or, “the man” isn’t evil

As a student pilot, you’re taught two simple words that ensure that every controller, in every air traffic control facility, falls over themselves to help you stay out of trouble - “Student Pilot”. All you do is to say “Student Pilot” and, miraculously, irate controllers start speaking to you like they would have to their 4 month toddler. Of course, I exaggerate, but you get the point, I hope!

Once you earn your pilot’s license, you no longer have the “Student Pilot” safety net to save you. You are now licensed, and are expected to know the rules and obey them. The sweet controller who was your ally as a student pilot has now become “the man” - one who is out to ensure that you follow the rules, or there will be hell to pay. Or so you’re told. I have heard of pilots who are so terrified of even talking to ATC that they fly without ATC (this is legal, BTW), or go to extreme lengths to avoid any ATC conversation.

As a pilot, I have found that the contrary is true… If you’re in trouble, there’s no one who will do their best to save your empennage (that’s the rear end of an airplane) than the controller with whom you’re in conversation. There may be consequences for you if you ended up in a sticky situation because you broke a rule, but at least you will live to tell the tale.

This is true in the real world too. When you have a problem, you probably have a better chance of solving it if you confide in others - maybe your peers, maybe your team or maybe your superior. If the problem was the result of something that you did wrong, you may have some consequences, but at least you would have solved the problem and lived to tell the tale.

Brevity is, often, a good thing

As a student pilot, your instructors will drill two things into your mind about radio communication. Firstly, radio time is expensive, and if you hog the airwaves, other pilots cannot even get a word in. And, as a corollary, think of what you are going to say before keying the microphone.

In real life, just as in flying, these two rules are very important. The first, and probably most important, rule of business communication is to know what you want to say, to whom you’re going to say it, and the context in which the recipient will read your message. A close second is to be clear and concise in your communications.

Checklists are mandatory

Aviation is full of checklists and mnemonics - strange sounding ones like “GOOSE A CAT” or “DEC A RAT” or “GUMPS”. On every practical test one of the areas of assessment is “checklist usage.” The idea is simple - no matter how well you know your aircraft, or how well you know to fly, it is always possible to forget something. When you do forget, the cost could be significant. So, it’s drilled into you - use a checklist, or else…

In real life, many of us are loathe to use checklists. If we’re new to business, we’re afraid that using a checklist will be judged as a sign of weakness. If we’re experienced, we worry that using a checklist may make our juniors feel that we’re either turning senile or that we are incompetent. There have been many occasions where a whole website has gone down because the release engineer (or DevOps for the “cool” people) forgot to push a file, or change a configuration setting. A simple checklist could have avoided the drama and, more importantly, the economic impact.