Integrity In Pilot Training
- Advanced Aircrew Academy
What do you call the person who finished last in their pilot ground school class, but eventually passed their written and flight check ride after numerous failures? A pilot. Even if it takes many attempts, the result of passing flight and ground training is a pilot certificate, type rating, or sign‑off on training.
The aviation industry has improved the ability to track pilot training failures, but with the intensifying demand, there is growing pressure to fill empty pilot seats, which influences where the bar is set for training. It's not that the industry is short of pilots—the industry is short of qualified pilots; so how much training does it take to meet that benchmark?
There is a difference between benchmarking and competency. With the strain on the industry, it is important that the pilot training sector have self-awareness of the added pressure and to make sure instructors are not coerced into passing a pilot who strains the filters of competency. Now is the perfect time for a reminder of the importance of integrity.
We expect pilots to have integrity while making hundreds, if not thousands, of choices during each flight, but it does not end or begin there. Integrity, most simply stated, is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Integrity is expected in every aspect of a pilot's behavior, including their personal lives. An Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate even has a requirement that states you must "be of good moral character." A professional. No drugs or alcohol in your system. Stay mentally sharp and physically healthy to pass medical exams. Pass constant aviation tests and check rides.
Being a pilot is a verb, a noun, and also a state of being. For the majority, professional pilots understand the nuances of all those layers that create a safety mindset pilot, and they seek out the challenges of training. But that is not always the case.
Pilot integrity is a state of mind regardless of the situation. If a pilot compromises integrity in small situations, even outside of the flight deck, it becomes easier to compromise in larger situations. Sometimes that larger situation is being in an aviation leadership role or training position, sometimes training, or flying with pilots who have years and/or thousands of hours more experience than the person training them. Without even realizing it, integrity can be subliminally transferred in training. But the opposite is also true.
Integrity reflexes in aviation decision-making have their roots in how we train pilots. It is something we do not often connect or discuss. Each time a professional pilot walks into the simulator for their Initial or Recurrent training, their career is on the line. Both the pilot and examiner (who is also a pilot), know that, but are we doing a pilot a favor by passing them, even if they demonstrate subpar or marginal skills, even if they eventually pass the check ride? Is hitting the edge of the benchmark and bouncing over good enough? According to a checklist of demonstrated skills, it might be, but it erodes the safety structure that holds up the industry.
Aviation does not allow for having a bad day, but we also must acknowledge that both humans and machines will always make mistakes, so we add layers to stop the sequence of decisions that march us towards the edge of the safety circle. To build layers, we train repeatedly, requiring rote memorization of rules and procedures. But passing a check ride might not equate to successfully duplicating the scenario in real life. It is one of the reasons Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBTA) is becoming the new norm.
The goal of CBTA is to validate that pilots are competent and confident, and the only way to do that is to throw away the cookie‑cutter training outline and customize training by setting up a feedback loop and streamlining the focus on specific operations and authorizations. Essentially, it moves away from rote memorization and procedures to scenario-based training.
For example, instead of rote memorization and reading definitions, use a customized trip-based approach using real world experiences to meet training objectives. By working through flight scenarios, learners can apply critical thinking to decision-making in complex flight route situations. This type of FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) compliant training produces more effective outcomes by developing better problem‑solving skills, higher retention power, and elevated situational awareness. It should be operator-specific, up-to-date, and interesting.
We all know the standard procedures of the past. If, for example, a pilot screws up the V1 cut in the simulator, they bring everyone back to the end of the runway and do it again until they get it right, but without actually teaching the error or analyzing the root cause of the original mistakes. Why did they push on the wrong rudder pedal? Why didn't they see which way the nose was swinging? Just do it again until you get it right. But in real life, it's the first reaction that matters more. The problem is that we've got four hours in the simulator and a long list of Operating Specifications authorizations that need to be checked. All the instrument approach authorizations. Circle to Land. Land and Hold Short. High hot and heavy. Get it done. Checkmark. Pass. Good enough.
Instructors have empathy for the pilot in the hotseat, so it might feel like they are doing them a favor by letting them hit the lowest benchmark and letting it go. Even Bob Hoover had a few bad days, right? But since we cannot predict where and how that bad day will happen, it takes constant integrity in pilot training to be persistent about hitting more than just the benchmark.
If you would like to learn how Advanced Aircrew Academy's new Eye of the Pilot Part 135 recurrent training can increase the safety and integrity of your ground training, email firstname.lastname@example.org.