Ideas for Improvement from Redbird Migration!

There were many great presentations and breakouts at Redbird Migration that will take weeks to digest and present here! The significant AOPA presence almost eclipsed the whole Redbird contribution, especially the new AOPA Flight Training Advantage App now in Beta test (more on this soon). For all pilots, Joe Brown masterfully modeled a pathway to greater safety in flying through discipline and regular proficiency.

Only 4000 Professional CFIs in USA!

SAFE member Eric Crump recorded an excellent breakout digging deep into FAA statistics and revealing that despite the 114K flight instructor certificates, there are surprisingly, only about 12K truly “active flight instructors” (working with pilots toward ratings). Of these, 2/3s or all CFIs are brand new (8K new CFIs last year). And most of these CFIs are hour-builders transitioning to another career. We have only about 4,000 professional CFIs in the US that are continuously active in the aviation industry for more than a year. This means only about 4,000 instructors in the field building their professional skills and carrying institutional knowledge forward from year to year. 2/3 of CFIs on the job are inexperienced. True lifetime educators in the business are increasingly rare! This points out the critical need for SAFE mentoring program and SAFE CFI-PRO™ This also explains the rarity (and value) of Master Instructors! The geographical listing of SAFE members is here.

Error-Based Learning and Constructive Criticism

Another helpful breakout session for educators was the validation of educational practices undertaken by Chris Moser as part of his Master’s Degree at Embry Riddle.

Leveraging and analyzing AOPA’s extensive survey data, Chris scientifically validated the importance of Syllabus Usage, Pre-Lesson Preparation, Error-based Learning and Constructive Criticism. Though the first two (syllabus and prep) are well-accepted aviation tools, both error-based learning and constructive criticism are rare (and were found to be even more important). These two tools are underappreciated by educators and also mentioned in the SAFE breakout.

Error-Based Learning is often missed by new aviation educators since it is not covered in the FAA Instructor’s Manual. And there is a tendency for inexperienced CFIs to overcontrol most flight lessons both on the yoke and the radio preventing any experimentation and wandering by the student. But a well-established necessity in learning skill-based activities is for the learner to explore, and discover their own errors and self-correct. Constructive Criticism (and guided reflection) after a lesson guides the corrections to ideal standards and suggests “opportunities for improvement.”

The SAFE breakout reinforces the point that new CFIs seldom allow “constructive exploration” by the learner. Most aviation experience for new CFIs up to the point of CFI certification mandates precision and accuracy in every flight; additionally, the “pilot personality” is most often competitive and emotionally cold (whereas “compassionate coach” is a better model for success). It is often shocking for new CFIs to be going sideways and frequently off altitude in their new world as a learner explores their abilities and controls! (See the previous blog on “Two Certificates-Two Skill Sets!“) Another recommendation in the SAFE breakout is leveraging “incremental mastery” to motivate and inspire students to increase retention. Fly safe out there (and often)!


  Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Airlines -vs- GA: Safety Solutions!

Comparing the safety record of “big iron operations” with general aviation is a very common but also inherently unfair contest. The airline “safety sales pitch” goes something like: “airlines have a near-zero accident rate due to some superior skill, secret sauce or magic techniques (buy it here…)” But in fact, the General Aviation piloting job, by its nature, requires more diverse skills and responsibilities in a more demanding safety environment. The airlines have incrementally “engineered out” the risk for efficient transportation – which is indeed the goal of safety. But they have achieved this by limiting the flexibility and opportunities in flight that are the beating heart of GA flying.

Airline operations are not flown by solo pilots, but actively utilize a much larger “safety team.” Part 25 aircraft are piloted by a crew (required by certification) which all by itself conveys an amazing 8X benefit in safety! Additionally, automatic systems carry most of the pilot workload with operations to only 1% of available airports and almost always IFR.

Not only does the GA pilot usually carry all the piloting responsibilities solo, but GA pilots also cover the maintenance, planning, and dispatch while accessing thousands of non-standard airports in often challenging terrain. Airlines, by contrast, employ huge teams for maintenance and an army of licensed dispatchers doing all the planning from start to finish. And the regularly scheduled environment enables a high degree of standardization and predictability. Fortunately, though the safety comparison is dubious, there are many valuable techniques that can increase GA pilot professionalism and add safety to the challenging GA environment.

GA flying is lots more versatile (and fun), but as a result, more accidents do occur. It is not practical – or desirable – to give up the freedom and flexibility of GA flying – hire a copilot and file IFR? But there are many professional techniques and resources GA pilots can adapt to GA to increase the personal flying safety margins.- and many airline pilots flying GA are examples of this strategy. Every pilot should leverage these tools for greater safety. And CFIs reading this can build up clientele and professionalism by raising their game and developing these programs for their clients. Build your own “safety team” and become a personal professional pilot!

1) Objectively rate your flying after every flight and develop personal SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Whatever your piloting level, define it precisely with personal limitations and minimums. In professional flying, every new captain has restrictions until the specified experience is acquired and every operation conforms to SOPs. Matching capabilities to conditions is the key to safe flying. The “reflective review” after every flight ensures you are not “normalizing”  lucky – rather than skill-based outcomes in your flying.

2) Create a personal proficiency plan and upgrade plan for skill and knowledge. One huge safety advantage professional pilots have is the required 6-month recurrent training. To leverage this in personal flying, create a personalized program for maintaining and upgrading skills and knowledge. This probably requires a CFI at certain points for upgrading and objective analysis. (and if you are a CFI, setting up a program for your clients assures regular training opportunities and growth for your skills). For new VFR pilots challenging the busier airspaces like NYC or SoCal enhances skills and confidence. The required additional planning and radio savvy often motivate private pilots toward an instrument rating.

3) Carefully plan and brief every take-off as a potential emergency.  Professional pilots are required to calculate and brief all possible take-off (and landing) contingencies for every operation. This preparation ensures that emergencies are “expected” not “surprising.” A rejected take-off or power failure on the initial climb will lead to an accident unless it is trained then briefed before power application. This training is quite rare at the GA level. Consequently, the  “pilot killers” in aviation (when adjusted for exposure time). 24% of pilot fatalities occur during this phase of flight! For the CFI, it is critical to include a rejected take-off (pull the throttle, pop a window open or release the pilot seat to create surprise). Emphasizing a “prepared mindset” for every runway operation (take-off and landing) will exponentially enhance safety; pro pilot!

4) Utilize ATC services for longer or challenging flights. Every 121 or 135 operation requires continuous “flight monitoring” from the engine start to shut-down (usually IFR). In GA, there is a cultural drive toward “lone eagle bravery” (the “Lindbergh Effect?”) that spurns the use of resources. But the advantage of another set of eyes for traffic, and assistance in the case of an emergency or weather challenge is a huge safety boost for every flight. This also improves radio skills for future ratings (e.g. instrument).

5) Thoroughly brief the weather and specifically plan alternate routes and airports.  Though 91.103 specifies planned alternates for every flight, GA pilots seldom consider and prepare other routing or landing options. (As a CFI on a flight review, NOTAM your client’s primary airport OTS enroute?)As a solo pilot facing challenging weather, call a trusted pilot friend for a second opinion (the “crew advantage”) and set objective standards for each continuation point – “a pilot in motion tends to stay in motion!”

6) Build a system for maintaining vigilance enroute,  continually watching for potential landing areas and monitoring trends. “Immediate memory items” – boldface in POH (again, professional pilots go to training every 6 months and beat this up). When the engine has problems or quits, the “pilot pull reaction” seems into the human DNA. Recent training must take over and quickly reduce the flight attitude to the glide picture (your wing cord line level with the horizon). For CFIs, this needs to be repeatedly emphasized in every flight review; “surprise!”

7) Practice take-off and landings in windy conditions: “Where the rubber meets the road” is the major cause of aviation accidents. And surprisingly, there is no requirement to test crosswind landings on any flight test! Windy landings are “voluntary professionalism”  that few pilots attempt or master. Every flight review needs to sharpen this skill set. “Tough love” from the CFI keeps pilots alive. Fly safely out there (and often)!

 

8) Identify and separate emotions from facts. We are all subject to cognitive bias and many “landmark accidents” clearly illustrate “magical thinking” at work. Another huge advantage of a larger “safety team” with crew-based flying and SOPs is the objective analysis of the risks. As the only planner and pilot in GA, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing what we want to see. Conversely, many pilots miss out on manageable trips because of initial fear. If a trip meets your standards and adds up to objective safety, the flight will be safe. It takes some courage to overcome initial jitters. It is also possible to dial down the challenge with a smaller mission or take a pilot friend for help. The key is to keep flying and growing skills, knowledge, and experience. Fly safely out there (and often)!

There are many more great “tune-up” skill builders in our “SAFE Extended Envelope Syllabus.” What are your favorite “tune-Up” maneuvers?


Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Fly Adaptively – TLAR Defeats Perfectionism!

Pursuing excellence and striving to be better is a positive piloting trait and the heart of professionalism. It is unfortunately often confused with “perfectionism” which is a neurotic need to avoid any perceived errors – rooted in fear and insecurity. Perfectionists seek external validation and are often driven by shame. Being perfect “every day in every way” can be seriously disabling in both life and in flying. It is also a serious impediment to learning anything new since this requires some humility and vulnerability (not a “know it all”). Perfectionism causes indecision and procrastination since no action can be taken until it is absolutely “the best.”  And in flying, “no action” is definitely the “enemy of the good.” By contrast, aeronautical decision-making strives for the “best possible” solution in a timely manner; “satisficing” not maximizing. TLAR (that looks about right) is from the military; extemporaneous improvisation in the heat of battle. The  pitfalls of perfectionism go way beyond the usual “pilot OCD.” To be safe we need to fully understand the difference.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.”
Dr. Brené Brown

Perfectionism can cause serious psychopathology because perfectionists relentlessly drive themselves to achieve an impossible standard—no hesitations, deviations, or inconsistencies. (This is the driving force behind anorexia) They can become hyper-sensitive to imperfection (in themselves and others) and can fall easily into helplessness and self-recrimination. Perfectionists believe their acceptance from others (being a good pilot) is dependent upon never making any mistakes. For true perfectionists, there is never “good enough,” since by definition, “perfect” is always out of reach. Psychologists catalog perfectionism as a defense mechanism with a rigid set of rituals designed to avoid failure and especially shame (failure in the eyes of others). Operationally, perfectionists are vulnerable to distress and cognitive rigidity; haunted by a chronic sense of failure as well as indecisiveness, procrastination, and shame. Perfectionist pilots can be truly painful to work with since they often display an outward sense of superiority and condescension as well as an unwillingness to adapt to changing situations. In this way, perfectionism is very different from “striving for excellence!

If you see yourself in some of these descriptions, don’t be alarmed. Every psychological profile is a spectrum and pilots all have “tendencies.” There are good elements that can be salvaged, it is the core negative motivation that needs to be avoided. Though we should all maintain and aspire to the highest standards and ideal outcomes, we need to fight against rigid perfectionism as a weakness that is disabling. Flying is too dynamic and fraught with variables and surprises to be amenable to the rigidity of perfectionism. Our best strategy for decision-making in a rapidly changing, high stakes environment is “the best solution in the current situation.”

TIme to playA common metaphor for decision making in aviation is the sport of football. As in aviation, football requires  hard practice, drilling skills and technique.  It similarly runs all the hypothetical scenarios and even decides the perfect desired course of action in the huddle. But as soon as the ball is snapped and the whole situation evolves, everything is changing rapidly. This fluid world of multiple variables and limited time, requires fast action, improvisation and flexibility not the rigidity of perfection. Aviation decisions require “fast and frugal decision-making” rather than rigid and constrained pre-decided planning. As General Eisenhower famously said “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Satisficing” is a decision making concept developed by a genius (and Nobel prize-winning) computer scientist named Herbert Simon way back in the 1950s. He was the first behavioral psychologist and debunked the Renaissance idea of “perfection in knowledge and action.” We live in a fast-changing world where we have limited time, resources, and information.  “Perfect choices” are impossible in a dynamic environment. Simon advocated the best choice limited by circumstances which he called “satisficing.” This is also the core concept which pilots call “aeronautical decision making” (ADM). We cannot freeze the action, we must decide on the fly and achieve the best outcome given the limiting factors of time information and resources.

F-16_June_2008The aeronautical origin of this concept was Colonel John Boyd, the famous developer of energy management fighter tactics (and later the F-16 aircraft at the Pentagon). Boyd ran the Nellis AFB “Top Gun” fighter school for years and created the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act model for decision-making in fluid, rapidly changing (usually wartime) conflicts. This was gratefully accepted by the Marine Corps and is taught at every business school in America for business decisions. The book “Team Of Teams” by Gen. Stanley McChrystal incorporates many of these ideas employing fast-cycle iterations. When the action is fast and furious, decision making is fast and frugal.

The heart of fast and frugal decision-making is the application of “heuristics” or rules of thumb. These predetermined scripts simplify the decision-making process through mental shortcuts. Heuristics bypass the careful, rational (but time-consuming) deliberation process and occur decisively and immediately in areas with a clear need for action. These also encompass the habits we, as pilots, work so hard to embed almost instinctively in our operating system. Another term from the military that often describes this ability is TLAR (“that looks about right”) and is an anathema to perfectionists. When Apollo 13 blew up (the famous quote “Houston, we’ve had a problem”) and the playbook had to be thrown out requiring calculations on the “back of the napkin.” Flexible thinking brought this crippled craft back home with the most accurate splashdown in history. So trust the force a little and work with “satisficing” to achieve the best outcome given the circumstances. You will always be better off acting decisively than frozen looking for an elusive “perfect choice.” Fly safely out there (and often)!


Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.

Honesty & “Tough Love” for Safety!

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.23.50 AMThe most dangerous CFI is not the one lacking skills or with a history of safety issues. That CFI is usually locally notorious and avoided by astute (or scared) learners. A less obvious but much more dangerous CFI is the one that lacks professional standards and integrity and approves participation rather than achievement. On one level this can be a new CFI that craves approval and has not learned to properly (but gently) “deliver disappointment.” We all know that even despite hours attained, sometimes “more training is necessary” to achieve a known standard. New CFIs often lack a clear understanding of the standard or the process of getting to the goal line (see last week’s “10 Rules For New CFIs“). This is also a reason why CFI oversight and mentoring is so vital for new instructors.

SuperCessnaPanelProgressing deeper into the darkness is the occasionally dishonest “approval for a fee” method of flight training. A tip-off here is the large red flag promising “guaranteed success.” We all know the huge variety of human talents prevents any assurance of a set number of hours and dollars for true achievement. Only very careful filtering on the input side (and not just a fat bank account) can assure guaranteed achievement (and even then weather and equipment require “load balancing” for financial losses). Just look to the military for an honest example of how rigorous the intake and weeding out process in flight training can be. Honest schools present realistic cost estimates in their advertising and NO guarantees…”mileage may vary!”

Shopping for Santa Claus DPEs and granting undeserved privileges compromises the whole aviation safety culture. Our business has no room for “participation trophies” given away for “just showing up.”  And the hope that weak pilots will “get better later” never really works out! Being a professional necessitates “tough love” (honest care for your safety and better self)  and adherence to a known standard of excellence. Honesty and integrity are critical requirements of the CFI job to prevent the approval of unqualified pilots. Larceny at the DPE level are even more heinous and recently demonstrated here.

Pushy clients can always be found “shopping for a yes” in flight training. A professional CFI must set standards and carefully control expectations. The “power of the pen” is the only barrier between these pilots and their shiny new plane. Honest “tough love” can be a bitter pill that delays their “success” and also damages their ego. But all true progress comes with some struggle and personal safety hangs in the balance. CFI endorsements convey serious privileges that should be earned only by demonstrating proper skill, knowledge, and judgment.

SuperCessnaIf you are a client or student, watch out for the “pathological pleasers” and the “guaranteed results” who too easily gives away privileges you do not earn. There are no gifts in aviation – except the happy surprise of “weather better than forecast?” Safe progress requires some serious work and discipline to earn every achievement. If your CFI is overly helpful or continuously complimentary, seek a new coach on your way to your certificate or rating. And for your flight review seek out someone that makes you work hard – your life depends on it. Fly safely out there (and often)!


Your SAFE membership also saves you money and helps support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Lastly, use our FREE SAFE Toolkit App to access pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitate CFI+DPE teamwork. Working together to raise professionalism makes all of us safer pilots!

Our new “Checkride Ready!™”is now on the SAFE toolkit app (prepared by senior DPEs). This guidance helps prevent “Pink Slips” during flight tests by fully preparing every applicant for their checkride. Both Private and Instrument are now complete.