What Makes Us Aviation Professionals?
A Summary of Qualifications, Ethics, and Responsibility
Amber R. Berlin
I catch the look exchanged between the pilot and his cargo as they board their commercial flight to Los Angeles. Can we trust you? This unspoken request hangs in the air, each gaze finally broken by the crowd pressing forward to find their seats. A few of the passengers here are flying for the first time. All of them trust the pilot and flight crew with their lives. What is it that makes the crew able to accept the responsibility for so many? Do they hold certain personality traits that make them better suited for this type of work, or have they simply adapted to the high demands of the job, and high expectations of the public? These are the questions we will answer as I take you on a journey with an in depth look at today’s aviation professionals, their responsibilities, and the characteristics that enable them to carry our most precious cargo, the passengers.
The aviation industry is responsible for thousands of lives every day. Each aviation accident has the potential to cost millions of dollars in equipment, and even more tragically, extinguish precious life. In a field where trust is hard earned, and accidents happen, they must hold themselves to a higher standard of accountability.
The ability to think clearly in times of crisis, when most people freeze, is what defines us as aviation professionals. Many people can do their job well every day, but when disaster strikes they stand frozen, unable to react. “Fear is the most powerful emotion,” said University of California Los Angeles psychology professor Michael Fanselow. (Associated Press 2007). Professionals have the ability to separate their personal feelings from the task at hand, and since their thought process isn‘t hampered by emotion, they retain the ability to make sound decisions.
The public also holds aviation professionals to a certain standard of excellence. They are expected to know their job, and know it well. Thousands of hours are spent learning in classrooms, on the job, and later in the field, and training on updated techniques or upgraded equipment is never ending. Every airline passenger expects certain needs to be met, with safety, timeliness, and comfort ranking high on the list of importance. If you let them down, they go straight to customer service, or the news, with their complaints. American Airlines Executive Vice President of Marketing Dan Garton said, “There are huge costs when you have inconvenienced your customers.” (Associated Press 2009). Staying current in techniques, technology, and industry news is vital to being able to assist the customer and your crew to the maximum extent.
As aviation professionals, we must have the ability to follow the rules, pay close attention to detail, and get the job done as scheduled. Following the rules means being aware of the rules in the first place, so staying abreast of changing procedures and regulations is vital to success. Because of the steady evolution of the aviation industry, professionals must continue to expand their knowledge, with a willingness to learn new techniques being essential. It is important to follow the rules, even when no one is looking. This “ethical behavior is learned behavior, and managers can build organizational processes and strategies that contribute to this learning effort.” (Menzel 2006).
Individuals in the aviation industry have certain personality traits that enable them to hold positions that require a high level of accountability. According to the Keirsey Temperament Test, most of these individuals have a guardian type personality, with a strong desire to protect others. This desire is what drives them to step into aviation instead of some other field. It is spurred by the desire to gain knowledge, and the motivation to step into a position of command.
The Keirsey website further explains a guardian’s motivation in their 1 1⁄2 page description:
“They have such a clear vision of the way that things should be, that they naturally step into leadership roles…they are extremely talented at devising systems and plans for action, and at being able to see what steps need to be taken to complete a specific task.” (DeBruhl, 2002, p.67).
Guardians have a deep set vein of integrity and they hold their crew’s honesty, as well as their own, in high regard. They also tend to hold themselves to higher than average standards, and consistently strive for excellence in their work. This description of a Guardian is accurate according to a survey of aviation professionals and college students taken earlier this year, making them a perfect match for the high standards of aviation.
As a former air traffic controller, holding oneself to a higher standard was a way of life. With hundreds of lives depending on you each second and only moments to make each decision, professionalism was a requirement of the job. It was this high standard that kept us safe, and training was focused on the perfect execution of each task. There was no room to be sloppy as the traffic picked up and when you’re too busy to think, you fall back on the training you worked so hard to master.
One evening I was working approach at Sheppard Air Force Base, TX. I had only been certified to work alone for a few months. Storms had hit northern Texas hard that day and the visibility was poor. A flight of T38’s joined my pattern and requested a flight split. I separated and identified each aircraft, and my gut instinct was to vector them with additional spacing. Instead of the required 3 miles, I was giving them nearly 7. My supervisor came to stand behind my chair and started criticizing my way of working traffic, saying it was a waste of resources to make them use so much fuel in a wide pattern. I maintained my professional attitude and continued to work the pattern, although the criticism wasn’t easy to listen to. I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach…Was I wrong? The thought echoed in my head as I pushed everything out and focused on the task at hand. After several minutes the aircraft landed and the supervisor walked away, obviously displeased. Within the hour, one of the pilots called the RAPCON and asked to thank me for providing the extra separation on final with such poor visibility. I was relieved to hear that my decision was the right one for the situation. But more than that, I’m glad
I didn’t let the criticism compromise safety or cause me to respond to the supervisor in a negative way.
Each individual in the industry has the ability to prevent an accident from happening, and it is each individual’s responsibility for costly mistakes. They are constantly striving for the unattainable goal of perfection, and consistently falling short. However, this quest is not without rewards. Saving just one life is reward enough, and whether you’re the maintenance man who turned the last screw, or the pilot in command during flight, each of the aviation professionals involved in this process ensures the safety of the skies.
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Associated Press, (2007). Frozen with fear? Science tells why. Retrieved from
Associated Press, (2009). As fares and fees rise, passengers want service. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26791797/
DeBruhl, A.D., (2006). The ultimate truth: An objective commentary on just about everything. Boston: 1st World Publishing.
Menzel, D.C., (2006). Ethics management for public administrators: Building organizations of integrity. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
Featured Image: Jetstar Airways