Mar 30, 2023
Being a pilot requires careful precision in all aspects of the job, from the preflight and weather assessments to filing flight plans, take-offs, landings, inflight skills and decision making. In fact, the successful completion of any flight significantly depends on a pilot’s state of mind, attitude, and personal judgment – often referred to in general as the ‘pilot mindset’.
A secure pilot mindset is a critical factor in ensuring pilots make informed decisions and communicate effectively while maintaining a high level of proficiency in all aspects of flight operations. For this reason pilots need to be aware of any mindset factors, such as attitudes or behavioural traits, that may influence their judgment and decision-making abilities.
What Kind Of Person Makes A Good Pilot?
Because the pilot mindset encompasses the overall way of thinking when operating an aircraft which ultimately affects the decision-making process, being a pilot involves mastering specific fundamental skills (some naturally part of your personality, and some that have to be developed over time through training and experience). Some of the core personality traits and characteristics related to mindset necessary to become a successful pilot are:
- The ability to remain calm under pressure (good emotional stability)
- Being able to adopt a proactive approach to problem-solving
- Self-awareness and self-confidence
- Having clarity of thought and sound judgement
- Highly detail-oriented
- The capacity for fast-paced decision-making and information processing
- Having well-developed and advanced technical knowledge
- Good insight into human behavioural patterns and psychological traits
- An excellent understanding of situational awareness and its importance in aviation
- A level-headed approach to various situations, including the unexpected
- A willingness to learn and a positive attitude
- Low risk-taking tendencies (ability to manage and mitigate risk)
- Excellent communication skills
- The ability to rapidly adapt to changing procedures and protocols
- Strong leadership and teamwork skills
- Be reliable, responsible and resilient
In addition to the above personality traits and skills, the focus on building a good pilot mindset also requires attention to analytical skills which includes ongoing training and development in the latest aviation technologies and regulations.
Decision Making In Aviation
The aviation decision-making process involves an awareness of yourself, the aircraft and the situation which depends heavily on the mental state or mindset of the pilot. During the decision-making process, pilots must use their judgment to evaluate various risk factors to choose an appropriate course of action to then achieve the desired result. This process normally works pretty well, however, when stressors are introduced to the human mind, the decision-making process can fail or become distorted with disastrous results. Aviation stressors can be broadly summarised under 3 main categories:
- Physical. These relate to the physical environment and include things like the temperature, noise and vibration of the cockpit, turbulence, and hypoxia.
- Physiological. These relate to things that directly affect the proper functioning of the human body or mind, most commonly fatigue, the ingestion of external substances (drugs or alcohol) and nutrition.
- Psychological. These include more emotional factors such as peer pressure, self-image, plan continuation bias (Get-There-Itis) and ego.
Any and all of these stressors have the ability to drastically alter a pilot’s perceptions to the point where making realistic and safe evaluations is no longer possible. This is where the importance of understanding the pilot mindset and the attitudes and behaviours within ourselves can aid in developing mechanisms to adjust thought processes and override hazardous attitudes.
5 Hazardous Attitudes That Can Compromise Pilot Decision Making
Having addressed the fundamental skills needed to master the pilot mindset and its close association with the decision-making process above, it is also necessary to outline the things that can compromise this mindset. According to aviation researchers, pilots need to be aware of any attitudes that may influence their judgment and decision-making abilities. Five of the most common hazardous attitudes that can compromise a pilot’s decision-making according to the CAA are:
1. Anti-Authority Attitude
A typical response in this case might be “Don’t tell me what to do!” or “I’ve done this hundreds of times before”. Pilots with an anti-authority attitude can suffer from two distinct variations: an inbuilt resentment of authority or a feeling of superiority where they find a way to rationalise not following the rules, believing the rules don’t apply to them.
2. Impulsivity Attitude
The impulsivity attitude is generally described as a feeling of needing to do something, anything, quickly. This usually means instead of taking a moment to think things through and select the best option, pilots act on impulse and do the first thing that comes to mind. While the ability to asses and react fast is a desired skill for pilots, responding too quickly can lead to irrational and uninformed decisions.
3. Invulnerability Attitude
As human beings, we have a general tendency to think accidents happen to other people (perhaps one of our many built-in survival mechanisms?). While this belief comes in handy at times, for pilots, it can mean the predisposition to take more risks than necessary, resulting in compromising flight safety.
4. Macho Attitude
One of the pitfalls of having high levels of self-confidence is the emergence of a macho attitude. This is best described as becoming overconfident in your own abilities, which tends to develop into unsafe risk-taking behaviour. Whether it’s a driving need to impress, a superiority complex or a more physical reaction to something like hypoxia, a pilot overestimating their abilities can lead to dangerous actions without recognition of the risks involved.
A typical response for the resignation attitude might be “What’s the use?” – a somewhat defeatist attitude is the key to the resignation attitude. In practice, the resignation attitude is best described as the compulsion to accept an undesirable outcome instead of continuing to seek out a more suitable solution. This is basically referring to the pilot simply giving up when faced with a dilemma that appears insurmountable to them. Lack of confidence, existing personality traits, embedded belief patterns, unwelcome criticism, lack of support and exposure to physical factors such as hypoxia can result in this belief of helplessness and inability to take action.
Ensuring that pilots make informed decisions and maintain a high level of proficiency in all aspects of flight operations is vital to the success of aviation around the world. A strong pilot mindset is a fundamental aspect of this process – one that requires extensive training to ensure each flight is operated to the highest level of safety.