On a recent Saturday, I was invited to experience what it is like to fly a plane under the Golden Gate Bridge, over Alcatraz, and near the Pentagon. I was in a flight simulator with a friend who is an airline pilot and trainer. The quality of the both the vibrations and movements of the simulator with the high quality visuals was incredible. It was hard to believe that I was in a small machine… inside of a building… on the ground.

While I was maneuvering this multimillion dollar machine on hydraulics, my friend went on to explain how airlines are implementing performance psychology into the training of novice and experienced pilots. However, they were finding that the idea of performance psychology did not impress all pilots. There exists a generational gap between the “veterans” and the “rookies” in the pilot world, which was really showing its head when it came to adopting the ideals and methods of deliberate practice.

In “the old days of flying” (up until about the 1990’s), the oldest and more experienced pilot was in charge. Whatever he or she said, went. Most of the time, this did not mean following proper protocol and standards of the airline. There was minimal guidance and minimal communication between two pilots before and during a flight. First officers were hesitant and even avoidant of collaborating with, much less correcting, the captains when they were seen not following protocol. This deviation from the script and the power dynamics between pilots has contributed to numerous plane crashes, injuries, and deaths.

There was no sense of team and no sense of deliberateness.

Is the biggest threat to safety truly external?

Or are the real and most intense threats internal, a byproduct of human error?

Airlines have been exploring this possibility and turning to deliberate practice to help.

How does implementing the idea of deliberate practice in pilot training alleviate this problem? The airline is raising the expectation for every pilot employed at their company. In this line of business, average is not (and cannot be) accepted. Being detailed and exact is the expectation. The idea is to minimize your chance of error and maximize your chance of success. This requires deliberate action, for every action. They prepare themselves mentally and physically to “practice precision while picturing perfection”. The focus is on getting the most out of yourself, constant self-evaluation, and an identification of your weaknesses before deliberately practicing how to overcome them.

– Katie Steinert –