By Gene Benson
We pilots show a face of confidence. Our personas exude competence in our well-honed skill and knowledge relating to all things aviation. That is largely out of necessity. A passenger might be reluctant to climb into our airplane if we said, “There is a bit of a crosswind today. I’ve never been very good at crosswinds, but I’ll do my best.” Or how about, “Our destination is a busy airport and I’m not very good on the radio, but we’ll give it a shot.” Or still, “This airplane has an unfamiliar autoflight system, but I can probably figure it out.” We would probably log considerably fewer hours or at least more solo hours if we said things like that.
It does not require deep self-analysis to reveal our weak areas. We all have them and a little thought brings them into our conscious mind. That is not to say that our weak areas make us unsafe or not fit to fly. If perfection was the standard, there would be no pilots. All pilots have room for improvement. Perfection is not the standard, but it should be the goal. Realistically, we all know that perfection is an unreachable goal, but we should all try to get as close as we can.
Recognizing that our skills and knowledge can be improved is a first step. The next step requires a desire to improve. Those two steps are wasted, however, if we do not know what the next steps should be. Real, substantial improvement can only be achieved if a plan is developed and followed. The plan must be customized for the individual and that is precisely what we do in the “Being Better Program” that I authored for Bright Spot, Inc. Stop! Don’t click off this page! I am not running a commercial for the program here. I am offering this part for free!
This is not quite as effective when it is not done in person with personal discussion, but it will still be effective. I will introduce the “Enhanced Pilot Development Plan.” It is a variation of the Continuous Individual Improvement Program that we offer in the Being Better Program. The basis of aviation version of the program is rather simple. The pilot does some introspection and writes down areas of skill and knowledge that could be improved and a specific plan of attack is developed to achieve improvement in the identified areas. We do not specify learning objectives for the individual areas. Our objective is simply to improve our skill or knowledge in those areas. That would not be acceptable in most educational programs, but it works here because we are going to repeat the program on an annual basis. We go into the program assuming the pilot already possesses skill and knowledge at least at FAA minimum standards. Any improvement is movement in the right direction and repeating the program annually provides for continuous improvement.
Step 1: Identify twenty areas for improvement.
We know that all areas could be improved for all of us, but the first ones that come to mind are probably the areas that need the most attention. To be thorough, we should spend some time on this step. It may help to recall any flight within the past year that did not go as well as hoped. Identify areas where you could have done something better and write them down. Close your eyes and think about any upcoming flights or just flights that you would like to make. Walk your mind through the flight from planning through shut down. Take note of any areas that give you an uneasy feeling or maybe even raise the hairs on you neck. Finally, ask yourself what your biggest fears are when it comes to flying. (If you can honestly say that you have no fears, cut your pilot certificate up into little pieces and find another way to make a living or find another hobby.) Make note of those fears but think about the skills or knowledge that would be needed to deal with whatever the situation might be, or to prevent the situation from occurring. For example, maybe a fear would be an inflight fire. One of the skills that might be needed is the execution of the steep descending turn to get on the ground ASAP. That becomes a skill to be added to our improvement list.
Step 2: Prioritize the list of needed improvements.
Be careful to list the most needed first, rather than the most convenient to accomplish. Take some time on this step and really think about which areas are most important. Come back to it on a few different days if necessary. This is perhaps the most difficult step. It might be helpful to consult with another pilot. But in the end, only you know which ones you need most. At the completion of this step you should have a prioritized list of twenty areas needing improvement.
Step 3: Remove items eleven through twenty from your list.
Do not delete them. Save them for a future list. Remember, this will be an annual exercise. You should now have a prioritized list of ten areas needing improvement.
Step 4: Remove items six through ten.
Again, do not delete them. Save them for a future list. You should now have a prioritized list of five areas needing improvement. Why did we reduce the original list from twenty down to five? The plan must be manageable and realistically achievable. Seeing a list of five areas to improve seems doable. Seeing a list of twenty or even ten areas may seem overwhelming. Any task that seems overwhelming is unlikely to be started. If you somehow complete your list of the five top areas in a short time, you still have your list of remaining items to work on.
Step 5: Develop a plan to improve for each area.
This is not as difficult as it might seem, but you might need some help. It might be worthwhile to schedule an hour of ground instruction with an experienced CFI. This may seem strange, but it is better to schedule with a CFI who is not familiar with you or with your flying. Be sure that the instructor understands what you expect. Explain that you have identified five areas that need work and that you want a written plan to help you improve in those specific areas. Present your list of the top five items and get some advice from the instructor on how to make progress in those five areas. Make sure the instructor knows that you are paying for his/her time and expertise and that you will most likely be working with a different instructor on the execution of the plan. You can always decide to work with that instructor, but for now, you are looking for a plan and not a sales pitch. When you meet with the instructor, present your list of the top five items and be open for honest discussion. Hopefully, the instructor will take notes and promise a written plan will be ready in a few days. Once you have the plan, be sure to question anything that does not seem right or seems incomplete. You might want to repeat the process with an additional instructor who does not know the first one. It may seem like overkill, but getting a solid plan is crucial. It is better to spend a little more time and money on developing a good plan that to waste money executing a poor plan.
Step 6: Follow the plan for each of your defined areas to be improved and evaluate your progress.
Adjust the plan as needed. Try to accomplish improvement in the five items in a year or less.
Step 7: Begin again with Step 1.
Review your fifteen items that you deferred and see if any or all of them are still valid concerns. Consider any new areas of concern that may have become apparent. Complete the remaining steps and repeat as necessary.