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Orescan: What makes a good professional pilot?

Today’s professional pilot has to do a lot more thinking and have a much better concept of the game plan.

September 27, 2007  By Chris Orescan

The skills required by today’s professional pilots are considerably
different from those of our forefathers. They must have and display
more skills, concerning themselves with regulations, security, crew
harmony, customer service and on-time performance. Good pilots must
think about how these all interrelate and, depending on the airline
they fly for, question what they bring to the table.

what makes a good professional pilot? We are not referring to career
advancement skills, or steadfast determination to succeed in this
industry, or the obvious need to demonstrate adequate motor skills;
these have not changed over the years.

Also needed is a good
working knowledge of operating standards and regulations. Pilots must
know their duties and the SOPs thoroughly if they hope to make it past
probation. A new hire needs to adapt to new SOPs well and make a
seamless transition into flying the line, otherwise running the risk of
management receiving complaints from captains about lack of
performance. As aircraft and their systems become more advanced, pilots
must have a much better working knowledge of computers and advanced

Three or four decades ago the term ‘company culture’
barely existed, but now most airlines need to consider how individual
pilots fit into their culture and how they will represent the company.
Will they treat their customers with the level of service that is
required not only by the company but by a more demanding and smarter
customer. I was given an interview question a while ago which I thought
was an excellent insight into a person’s mindset. The question is:
you’re waiting for your captain in the lobby of a hotel on the first
night of a three-day pairing when the elevator door opens and you are
surprised to see your captain wearing a dress! What do you say?


training captains will tell you that they can teach just about anybody
to fly but it is much harder to teach someone to think. These
intangibles are what companies need to ensure that their flight crews
possess; will the crew be thinking far enough ahead to keep their
aircraft and their customers out of potential problems? This is
achieved by knowing the aircraft thoroughly, following and knowing
company SOPs, the CARs and always thinking ahead of an already
fast-moving aircraft. For example, an ordinary flight suddenly
experiences an emergency or problem, how will this pilot cope? Does
this person know the aircraft and its systems? Does this person know
the emergency procedures thoroughly enough to be able to deal with the
situation? Will the pilots work smartly as a crew or work against each

SOPs and emergency procedures are designed to take a lot
of the required extra thinking out of the process but often there are
areas which are not covered or are missed, otherwise we would not see
the tragedies that we do. A good pilot today must be able to think and
also show good performance at the same time, to see the big picture and
also think outside of the box if required. A good pilot should continue
to strive for excellence and know and continue to learn about the
aircraft, its systems and anything that may affect operations. There is
no room for blatant disregard or ignorance of regulations and
limitations. The day of the ‘cowboy’ is gone; there are still far too
many CFIT accidents and enforcement actions against pilots. Pilots need
to know when to say “No” and mean it; they need to step up and take
responsible and intelligent action when required.

professional pilot has to do a lot more thinking and have a much better
concept of the game plan. A colleague used to say there are two types
of pilots, those who think and those that don’t – or worse, fake it. So
what do you say to that captain wearing the dress? What would you say
to any women wearing a dress? Nice dress! Now ask yourself honestly:
did you assume that the captain was a man?

Chris Orescan is an
industry observer, pilot and author of the book, Becoming a
Professional Pilot in Canada. You can contact him at


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