The Important Skills Pilots Acquire From Flying

two pilots in the cockpit of a plane
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Being a pilot requires a certain set of skills, a few of which are technical but many of which can be applied to various parts of our non-pilot lives. A survey done by Brown Aviation Lease determined that pilots come away from flight training with five skills: confidence, multi-tasking, time management, problem solving and adaptability. (One might argue that confidence more a quality than skill, but it’s still a good list.) Anyway, this list got me thinking about other skills and abilities that pilots develop — if they don’t already have them — that can be put to use in other jobs or careers.

The Ability to Make a Decision and Make It Quickly

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.

Pilots know that making the wrong decision can result in a grave outcome, so they have to not only make the right decision, but they need to make it quickly. Pilots also learn that most times, there is not one single correct decision but many decisions with different outcomes. It’s their job to use good resource management to pick the best one for their particular circumstance. 

The Ability to Adapt to a Set of Rules and Know When to Break Them.

Pilots have a strict set of rules to follow from regulating bodies and other various sources. The federal aviation regulations, for example, set the basic operating rules for flying within the nation’s airspace, and 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 there are times when breaking them is the safer option – like busting an ATC clearance or company protocol because an urgent situation compels you to. Pilots know that following the rules is ideal, but breaking them is sometimes the better option. 

The Ability to Think Analytically and Creatively at the Same Time

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 pretty equally when flying.

The Ability to Trust in Something Other Than Yourself

Most of us want to be in control. We’re happiest when we'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. 

As humans, we are taught to trust our own body, brain, and our gut to tell us when things aren’t happening as they should. And usually, we’re right. But when the airplane disagrees with our gut or with what our brain thinks we should do, the instinctual reaction is to trust what our body and brain are telling us. This isn’t always the correct response.

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.

The Ability to See the Details and the Big Picture at the Same Time

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 things 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 take a visual inventory of the surroundings.

Then, when completing a walk-around inspection, the pilot will analyze each tiny component of the aircraft, while keeping a big-picture mindset. If there is a discrepancy, is it significant enough to cancel the flight? Will a broken gauge mean that you can’t take off? Will this flight exceed your personal limitations? When the details have been sorted out and the aircraft is deemed to be legally airworthy to fly, the pilot must still look at the big picture to determine if the flight can be made safely for the specific situation and conditions.

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 our lives. What skills do you think pilots have that are useful in other aspects of our lives?