The Hazardous Attitudes of Pilots

Learn How to Spot Hazardous Pilot Attitudes and What to Do About Them

Everyone knows that most pilots carry with them a certain level of arrogance. But did you know that the FAA actually has a list of five hazardous attitudes to which pilots are prone? They include anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, macho and resignation. These attitudes are often dangerous, and it's important for pilots to know which of these hazardous attitudes they encompass, and how to avoid falling into their traps. 


Angry boy scolded by his mother
Tim Denison / Getty Images

The pilot that doesn’t like to be told what to do or how to do things has an anti-authority attitude. Anti-authority personalities tend to discount rules and regulations as unimportant, or not applicable to them. And since so much of the aviation industry is regulated, this type of pilot doesn’t usually get very far without someone noticing and correcting the behavior. On occasion, though, you’ll hear about an airplane that hit a power line, a pilot who flew too close to a building, or that pilot who ignores the VFR cloud clearance and visibility requirements and flies too close to the clouds.

Nobody likes a rule-breaker. That is, unless breaking the rules is the right thing to do. In some rare cases, it’s safe and necessary to bend or break a rule. It’s not usually difficult to know when these cases exist; an emergency situation is one example. For instance, if someone on board your aircraft is having a heart attack, it’s probably okay to break the speed restriction in order to get on the ground as soon as possible.

And in a crew environment, CRM should be taken into consideration, and questioning authority is encouraged if your intentions are good and you sincerely think that the authority figure is wrong. The idea that we shouldn’t question authority can get us into trouble, as well, and in some cases, an accident might have been avoided if the first officer had trusted his instincts and stood up to the captain.

Moral of the story: Don’t ignore the rules just to ignore the rules, but by all means, speak up when you see something wrong! 


Woman jumping
Photo: Getty/Sasha Bell

Many pilots are impulsive. The pilot career attracts people who are daring, unafraid of risk and impulsive. But in an airplane, making decisions without thinking them through can be damaging, even fatal. While decisions often need to be made quickly in the flight deck, it’s wise to remember to slow down and make thoughtful, calculated decisions instead of knee-jerk reactions.

The impulsive pilot does the first thing that comes to mind quickly, without considering other options. In a crew environment, an impulsive captain might decide to divert without consulting other crewmembers, or he might incorrectly identify a failed engine and pull back the wrong thrust lever if he acts too quickly and without thinking about what he’s doing.

It’s helpful for impulsive people to remind themselves that acting quickly can be dangerous while flying, and that their first instinctual reaction isn’t always the correct one. 


take me away
Image: Getty/Colin Anderson

The invulnerable pilot thinks that nothing bad will happen to him. He sees himself as untouchable, and although he’s aware of the risks and dangers, he doesn’t actually ever think he’s at risk or in danger himself.

A pilot that possesses the invulnerable personality trait is not usually very good at self-assessment or risk assessment, and since he doesn’t recognize that he’s at risk, he’s more likely to push the personal limits of himself and others. Invulnerability is difficult to recognize, but pilots that feel bulletproof don’t tend to analyze their risks and might even ignore safety protocols that are in place.  


Portrait of young businessman flexing muscle outdoors


The macho pilot likes to show off and will sometimes take unnecessary risks to get noticed. They like attention and are a bit too eager to demonstrate their piloting skills, so they might take off in bad weather or delay spin recovery to try to prove their abilities.

Macho personalities are known to be loud and boisterous, but this isn’t always the case. The quiet, shy pilot can be just as macho as anyone else. Knowing – and sticking to – your personal limitations will prevent you from trying to show off. A pilot that is susceptible to the macho personality type should take care to avoid competing with others, and should realize that taking chances is often a good way to embarrass yourself.  


Portrait of confused young man

Getty/Jamie Grill

Giving up is perhaps the worst of the hazardous attitudes. Nobody wants to be in an airplane with a pilot who, upon the first sign of trouble, just throws up his arms and resigns. Giving up, or resigning, during an emergency is probably the worst thing a pilot can do.

Pilots that have the resignation attitude give up to easily. They often think that there’s nothing they can do to change their situation, so why bother trying? This, of course, is far from the truth, and a pilot should, for reasons that are quite obvious, never give up while flying an airplane.