The Important Skills Pilots Acquire From Flying

two pilots in the cockpit of a plane
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A certain set of skills is required to become a pilot, a few of which are technical but many are applicable to various parts of your non-pilot lives. A survey done by Brown Aviation Lease determined that pilots come away from flight training with five skills.

Core Professional Pilot Skills

No matter what type of pilot you become, you will generally need a core set of skills to succeed in this career. Here are four types you will need to develop to get ahead:

1. Confidence

Your ability to take action and make decisions with assuredness because you are certain that you can handle the consequences of your actions. You are sure of yourself backed by your training and practiced decision making.

2. Multi-Tasking

You can simultaneously and effectively manage and take action on multiple priorities and projects at once.

3. Time Management

You have the ability to manage complex tasks and deadlines within given parameters of time that are critical to mission accomplishment.

4. Problem Solving

You have the ability to solve complex problems that might prove challenging to another person. Your problem solving involves an ability to simultaneously consider a variety of options and variables to come up with a speedy solution

5. Adaptability

You are able to swiftly take into consideration a variety of changing circumstances and change your behavior or actions quickly to take advantage of the differing opportunities.

Application of Pilot Skills to Different Careers

You can apply these skills valued by pilots to almost all careers. Here’s how.

Ability to Make a Decision and Make It Quickly

Why this is an important skill for pilots: Most people, given enough information, can make a sound decision that results in a positive outcome. But when flying an airplane, time and resource constraints, as well as other stress-adding factors like scared passengers or turbulence, can make decision-making a bit more challenging.

How you can apply this skill to your career: Most jobs don’t have life-threatening outcomes possible from everyday decisions, but you also need to make decisions quickly and correctly. For instance, you don’t have time to research proper techniques for calming a person down when a client is screaming at you right now.

In other situations, you may have time to research and make decisions but this process can lead to analysis paralysis. Once you have enough information to proceed, you can proceed confidently. Remember, it’s rare that only one right way exists to take action.

When to Adapt to Rules and When to Break Them

Why this is an important skill for pilots: Pilots have a strict set of rules to follow from regulating bodies and various other sources. The federal aviation regulations, for example, set the basic operating rules for flying within the nation’s airspace. Following these rules is paramount to keeping everyone alive. And there are other rules, too, like the rules that the airplane manufacturer publishes in the aircraft manual, which are often “suggestions” that, if not followed, could kill. And a pilot flying or working for a company will also be subject to following specific company policies and procedures.

These rules are all meant to keep people safe and alive, but, at times, breaking the rules is the safer option–like busting an ATC clearance or company protocol because an urgent situation compels you to do so. Pilots know that following the rules is ideal, but breaking them is sometimes the better option.

How you can apply this skill to your career: Rules and regulations exist in any industry and serious consequences can occur (though not often deadly) for not following through. Sometimes, though, doing the right thing can mean breaking a rule.

Examples for When to Break the Rules

Example 1:

You may have a rule that customers are never allowed behind the counter, but if an employee collapses behind the counter, you would absolutely want to let a nurse who was shopping come behind the counter to help.

Example 2:

Bereavement leave may be limited to three days, but if an employee’s mother dies halfway around the world, you would find a way to ensure that she can attend the funeral.

Ability to Think Analytically and Creatively

Why this is an important skill for pilots: A pilot can’t be just a "numbers person" or just a "creative person" to be a good pilot. It’s not left-brain or right-brain. Flying requires critical thinking in both realms. Pilots have to know the numbers for the airplane. They have to know the procedures and the checklists. But they also have to know how to use them appropriately, when to deviate from them, and how to think through a problem that’s not on a checklist, which is where the creativity part comes in.

Both skill sets come into play equally when flying.

How you can apply this skill to your career: While you can always hire a person to balance out the creative and the analytical, having a basic understanding of both realms is helpful. If you’re the creative person negotiating with a client, you need to understand the numbers or you’re at risk of selling yourself short. Likewise, if you’re the financial person and you can’t recognize good creative work, you may make errors on that side.

Ability to Trust Something Other Than Yourself

Why this is an important skill for pilots: Most people want to be in control. People are happiest when they're in control of a situation. It’s the same for pilots. A pilot at the controls knows what the airplane is doing, knows how he’ll react, and is content being in control of this machine. But he also needs to trust the Air Traffic Controllers and the instruments—when flying with no visual references—in the clouds, for example—a pilot’s ears and eyes can play tricks on their brain, often telling them that the aircraft is in straight and level flight when it’s actually in a steep spiraling descent.

Pilots have to observe and interpret the instruments in this situation instead of their own gut instinct. They have to fight against their gut reaction and instead rely on feedback from the airplane and its instruments to make proper decisions.

How you can apply this skill to your career: As human beings, you are taught to trust your own body, brain, and your gut to tell you when things aren’t happening as they should. And usually, you’re right. But sometimes the numbers disagree with your gut or your manager says this isn’t the correct path. You need to understand when your manager has the bigger picture and how the numbers come together and follow them. It can be difficult but it can save you from disaster.

Ability to See Details and the Big Picture

Why this is an important skill for pilots: Performing a preflight inspection on an aircraft is a good example of this. Pilots use (or should use) both a big-picture and a detail-oriented view when inspecting an airplane for flight, and with all factors involved in flying.

When first walking up to an airplane, the pilot should make sure that things look normal overall, that the airplane looks like it’s in good shape, is free of icing and the pilot needs to take a visual inventory of the surroundings. That is the detail-oriented part. Then while flying, of course, the pilot needs to see how the entire plane, the flight plan, and the information from air traffic control go together to pilot the flight to a successful conclusion.

How you can apply this skill to your career: Checklists aren’t just for beginners. In fact, surgeons use them to save lives. You can use them to ensure you don’t miss any important steps in your projects. A completed checklist allows you to sit back and view the big picture in confidence. They work together to ensure good results.

Pilots Have Skills That Apply to Your Career

These five skills are just a handful of skills that pilots develop. They happen to be useful skills that cross over into other portions of your lives. What skills do you think pilots have that are useful in other aspects of your life?