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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lessons Learned in Kindergarten

By Mike Redmon

While getting your rotorcraft ratings, the main focus is on the technical side of aviation. LTE, dissymmetry of lift and autorotations are examples of subjects/skills we work hard at mastering. We study hard to pass written and oral exams. After gaining our commercial certificate we then worry about how to get to some pre-determined amount of flight time or how to gain an ATP. One part of aviation that’s never discussed or focused on during training is our ability to interact with other people.

From a pure piloting standpoint, there usually isn’t much difference between a 1,500-hour and an 8,000-hour pilot. Notice I said “usually.” I have been surprised at both ends of the spectrum. I flew with a guy with an alleged 1,500 hours over a 20-year career as a National Guard-commissioned officer who scared the pants off me. He didn’t last more than a couple of weeks at our company. I also went to FlightSafety with an older pilot who definitely had over 10,000 hours of flight time but couldn’t fly better than your average 20-hour student pilot. I honestly think he had vision problems because that is the only excuse I could conjure up for the poor fellow. He also didn’t last more than a month on the payroll. We were lucky he didn’t kill anyone when he took off with the SAS disengaged and almost put the tailrotor into a hangar. Taking those extreme cases off the table, what usually separates pilots after 1,500 hours is their interpersonal skills.

The funniest jokes have a grain of truth in them so everyone chuckles when some always-cranky pilot says, “I love aviation but it’s the people I can’t stand.” Assume you are in a position to hire a pilot. If someone told you the 8,000-hour pilot was cranky all the time and generally ticked everyone off, would you hire him or the 1,500-hour pilot? “Attitude determines your altitude” is a cheesy cliché that might be seen on a high school poster, but in the real world it is very important. The last thing managers want to deal with is someone who has no interpersonal skills. Jerks generally don’t get the job.

In the HEMS world the medical folks run the show. If a pilot treats the nurse or medic like “self-loading baggage” and hides out in the pilot office for 12 straight hours, that pilot better hope he makes no noticeable mistakes. I’m sure the same is true for other forms of helicopter flying. We’ve all seen pilots “let go” for small flying infractions that shouldn’t even be worth a mention from the lead pilot. The infraction is usually just an excuse because everyone is tired of dealing with them. Is it fair that Pilot A gets fired for being 20 minutes late while no one cares that Pilot B was 30 minutes late the week prior? No, but it is the reality in most organizations, aviation or non-aviation.

I was a manager in a factory for a couple of years after finishing with active duty. I was extremely busy, and if someone was repeatedly a pain to deal with, I’d eventually tire of it and cut no slack for a minor mistake and fire him. Bosses are the same in every industry. They just want employees who treat their job with some degree of seriousness and who also get along with other team members.

I have two small children—a 5-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. In school they are learning the basics of life: Be nice. Use the magic words—Please, Thank You, You’re Welcome. Clean up after yourself. Say you’re sorry if you hurt someone’s feelings or make a mistake.

If the prior shift pilot didn’t wash the helicopter like he was supposed to, then don’t get upset about it and bad mouth him to the medical crew. Give the other pilot the benefit of the doubt and just wash it for him and forget it ever happened. Treat your fellow coworkers with compassion and understanding. If they need a mentor then do it without being a “know it all.” Go the extra mile for people. The lessons my children are bringing home are nice reminders of how everyone should act. Some of the most important lessons in life are the lessons we learn in kindergarten.

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