Superman or Solomon

It doesn’t matter what source you reference, the data is still the same. Statistical analysis of pilot-related aircraft accident causes point to the same six areas of operation; fuel management, weather, takeoff and climb, maneuvering, descent and approach, and landing. If you grouped all of these accidents together they would make up approximately 70% of all accidents. Over the last ten years, the statistic of pilot-related accidents has remained near 70% of the total accidents. The irony is that most, if not all, of these accidents were preventable at some point. So the question is why? Are instructors missing something in the training process? Do we focus so much on maneuver accomplishment that we fail to emphasize the other related areas to the maneuver? Are we really striving to get to the correlational level of learning? Do we need to re-focus on what should be required for a pilot certification? Is it a lack of education or a focus on the wrong material? Could it be the inability to accurately assess personality types and educate students based on those observations? It seems like all of these areas may have something to do with this statistically high cause of aircraft accidents. But it all comes back to the individual and the way they choose to view, and respond to, every situation.

Perhaps some of the pilots who end up as a statistic had a “Superman” complex. Maybe they could accomplish things with an aircraft that mere mortals were unable to accomplish. Or maybe they asked the aircraft to do something it was never designed to do. Or maybe they put themselves in circumstances they “just knew” they could handle; they were bullet proof. Or perhaps they were unable to recognize their own inabilities and vulnerabilities; even Superman knew that kryptonite was a bad thing for him and he should never get close to it. Every pilot has the potential to fall prey to a situation that will weaken or destroy him or her just as kryptonite impacted Superman.

The NTSB does a great job identifying the cause of an accident so that a remedy can be recommended. But is that enough? Shouldn’t we dig deeper and ask “why” the pilot made the decision(s) that led to the “cause” of the accident? Of course finding out what happened, how it happened, and figuring out a way to prevent it from happening again is important. But maybe that isn’t enough; maybe we need to see if there were certain character traits or faulty decision-making paths that should be addressed. It would be nice to discover the series of thoughts that led to the actions. The personal backgrounds that formulated the thought processes and the training processes experienced by the accident pilot could shed a great deal of light on the “why” of the accident. The problem is that many of those pilots are not here to tell us their story. Fortunately, there are some who have survived and they may be able to help us look more intently at their decision-making process.  This should be a “no harm, no foul” time of reflective, honest evaluation of the decision-making process that led to the broken link in the chain. The “Superman” complex needs to be debunked; we are but mere mortals.

Solomon was known best for his wisdom. Wisdom is defined as a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgments and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one’s emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one’s actions. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action. Maybe the application of wisdom to many of these pilot-related accidents would have yielded different results. The failure to include all possible considerations for each flight may result in undesirable and unplanned for outcomes. Education about related topics will help.

Training that shows relationships between topics helps. An honest assessment of individual personality traits, as well as what cautions should be exercised to curb the undesired effects of those traits is crucial. Would it be beneficial to require a personality inventory of some sort for every pilot candidate? Would this enable us to identify those who fall into a higher risk category for taking unnecessary chances? Perhaps this tool could be used to tailor a training plan that would capitalize on the applicants strengths and identify the weaknesses so they could be downplayed or avoided all together. Cookie-cutter training approaches are not working. Individualized training plans must be given serious consideration. Yes, it takes more time and effort, but what is the desired result? Are we seeking quantity and not quality? Numbers must be sacrificed, in some degree, if we place more emphasis on the quality of the product. Decision-making by pilots is a critical skill set. It involves the knowledge of many related topics and the interaction of those topics. It should be an unemotional, level-headed event. That is not to say emotion has no place in aviation; it does. Aviation is exhilarating, but emotional decision-making can fail to consider all of the important information one needs to make the “best” decision.  Many times, decisions are pre-made during the training process and only modified based on specific circumstances. Every phase of training can be approached with a “what if” mentality in an attempt to predict what could happen; this enables a pilot to be prepared for the unexpected. This is aviation wisdom applied.

So where do we go from here? Ultimately, it is the pilot’s responsibility to recognize and admit to his/her strengths and weaknesses. Pilots who become aware of their own capabilities and limitations should naturally assume an attitude of humility. There are good days and there are bad days. The trick is to know the difference and adjust. Aviation offers many ways to successfully accomplish the mission. A wise and humble pilot recognizes situations as they are and fashions the mission profile, given their individual abilities, to produce a favorable outcome. Knowledge is power. Pilots must be experts in the subjects related to their profession. They must know how each subject dovetails into the other. They must see the potential of knowing more about all aviation related topics. Limitations in a pilot’s knowledge will result in limitations in piloting skills. At some point, the pilot will experience a situation where they will not have an answer to the question at hand. As has been said many times before, earning a pilot certificate is your license to learn. It is the beginning, not the end of the process of becoming a professional pilot.

In some cases, accidents are the result of a lack of basic flying skills. However, in many cases the pilot made a decision that placed him/her in an area that required more skill than they possessed. Is this a problem of not having the proper flying skillset? Maybe, but it more likely points to a decision-making issue. Again, we have to ask ourselves, “are we Superman or Solomon?” Which one are you?

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