Airlines Seek Pilots with Great Soft Skills

I just read a great blog by that chap who landed his A320 in the Hudson, you know the guy.

He was talking about how to manage “the unexpected” and part of that was placing more value on something that the industry calls “soft skills”.

Now soft skills encompass a range of personality and behavioural areas and in my mind can be summarised by the phrase “self-knowledge”. Often this self-knowledge or the human element is not prioritised as being as important as technical aspects when it comes down to a pilots’ competency.

And it should be!

Yes, I can hear you say “we have to fly the aircraft first”, and of course you do, but if you fly the aircraft or follow the SOP’s with your blinkers on, then you just might be missing something.

If the SOP’s say to shut down an engine during a partial engine failure but you have 3000mtr mountains to get over and nowhere to land but on the other side, you might just say to yourself “I’ll bring the power back but not shutdown as it is safer to do so, as with partial power on the second engine we have a fighting chance to get over those mountains.”

Now that’s a simplified version of events obviously, but just following the SOPs’ is not good enough, what you need is lateral thinking, you need to self-manage the stress, and you need to show empathy in your announcement to your passengers.

Those are all areas that come along when you gain experience, but here’s a thought: instead of waiting 20 years for experience to kick in, we could teach those behaviours along with the hands-on ability to fly.

Here are the areas we teach regularly in order to prepare pilots for the Airline Job Assessment process:

Self-management of emotions and behaviour;

Ego maturity so that confidence doesn’t become arrogance;

Lateral thinking that means you look outside the box or even the SOP;

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Empathy, so that you inspire your team to buy into whatever it is you are trying to achieve;

Adaptable communication because not everyone dissects stuff the same way as you do;

Taking responsibility, whether it is for mistakes, decisions or failures.

Airlines are now also prioritizing these skills when they recruit for both direct entry pilots and cadets. Yep, I can tell you that they want you to illustrate a high level of self-knowledge around all of the above.

But don’t panic, if some of these things don’t come naturally to you, they can be learnt, trust me on that. We do it every day.

So I agree with that guy who landed on the Hudson River: it takes more than technical and flying ability to manage the unexpected, it takes a combination of “soft skills” and “flying skills”.

Without it aircraft would be fully flown by computers, but they are not and for a very, very good reason.

The Human Element.

Get in touch:

Kirsty Ferguson
Founder, International Aviation Coach and Author

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