As professional pilots, it is our nature to learn and grow from our experiences. Our growth doesn’t end with a type ride, a line-check, or annual re-current. There are innumerable ways to stay sharp when “on-the-line” and continue to develop our skills. Whether you are a freshly-minted first officer or seasoned captain, I would like to share several ways we can continue in our professional developments.
That first year as an airline pilot can be extremely daunting due to the new fast-paced environment of flying for an airline. During this first year, I would advise those new to the industry or to a particular airline to take the year to be a sponge and learn from every experience. Along the way, you will encounter very helpful captains or co-workers who are willing to share their insight on commuting, work-life balance, and the operation of the aircraft. Also, since there is a lot of material covered in ground school, I would suggest going back and reviewing the themes addressed and thinking of situations where what you learned can be applied in real-world scenarios. Doing this will help solidify the concepts. Plus, it will help you remember where to find these topics for reference should you find yourself in similar scenarios in the future. Your first year goes by extremely fast and soon you will be back in re-current. By staying in the books, you will help ease the stress that comes along with this new experience.
After your first year as an airline pilot, a lot of opportunities start opening up. You have gained a full year’s experience that you can take and build upon. Many believe that one of the best ways to learn is by teaching. Opportunities that arise may include becoming a ground school instructor teaching basic indoc or systems for your airline, or as a procedures instructor teaching flows and profiles in a matrix or FTD trainer, for example. I also believe there is a tremendous professional development advantage to becoming a recruiter. Recruiting is a great way of building and developing relationships with prospective pilots for your airline. Plus, you can attend recruiting events, which are excellent venues to network with other professionals that can facilitate your growth.
A first officer is a captain in training. If you are preparing for upgrade, my advice would be to start a (light to medium) study plan before you head to your upgrade class. Doing so will alleviate some of the workload and give you time to better absorb the information. Use this time to review your flows, opspecs and flight operations manuals. As you learn more, trips are the perfect time to take the opportunity to ask about some of the material you have been reading.
Soon enough, you’ll find yourself adding that extra stripe and moving into the left seat. (Congratulations Captain!) I can tell you definitively, that the first 100 hours and the first six months of as an airline captain are like “drinking from a fire hose.” There are many things to consider and still to learn as the leader of a crew. There will be times when you and your crew make decisions and they work out well, and there are other times when you fall short and you have to learn from those and move forward. If you haven’t already, have a mentor with whom you can talk to help you develop in your leadership styles. Another great tool to use is the “de-brief.” If something occurs on a particular leg, be open to discussing it in a way that is constructive not demeaning, being sure to always make that clear. An effective technique is to debrief at the end of the day, discussing the day as a whole. I use this as a method to ensure that, as a crew, we are working at our best and finding where we need to adjust.
As you become more comfortable and knowledgeable as a captain, there are even more opportunities to share your experiences, but there are still ways to continue your own professional development. One way is to become a simulator instructor. Becoming a simulator instructor is a great way to work with your pilot group, whether it be with new hires or current line pilots. Another professional development avenue for a captain is to become a Line Check Airman (LCA). Working with LCAs in the past has given me a lot of insight into their experiences and has reinforced that they truly enjoy what they do. There are many steps in becoming an LCA and it can be intimidating, but from speaking with others, I have learned that it is one of the most rewarding things they have done. Part of the job description for these roles is to assist in the planning and development of pilot training. You will be directly involved with maintaining and enhancing the high safety standards of your carrier.
While these are some of the immediate duties you can undertake to help you develop as a professional pilot, there are myriad ways to get involved. Other opportunities that can open in your airline can be found in your safety department. These can include becoming a Flight Operation Quality Assurance (FOQA) or Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) representative or analyst. These positions help the airline analyze areas where we can improve to better enhance the safety of flight. Another place where you can find a position for continued development is within your pilot representative group. You can assist in various committees such as Critical Incident Response Program (CIRP) or Fatigue Risk Management (FMRP).
Being an airline pilot and the duties that come with it can extend well beyond flying. Conversing with others and considering some of these areas in which I can continue my professional development has given me a greater perspective in the flight deck. I encourage everyone to continue their development as a professional and find an additional role, whether its analytics, teaching or recruiting, and see where the path takes you.