Professionals strive for excellence.

If you think the Practical Test Standards (or ACS) determine whether you are a “professional” or not, you are sorely mistaken. The PTS are absolute minimums. These standards represent the lowest level of proficiency the FAA has agreed to accept. In other words, it’s mediocre proficiency. For the freshly minted private or commercial pilot, I’m not downplaying your hard work as it certainly took work and effort on your part. However, don’t settle for this. You must strive to be better than a minimum standard. Don’t be mediocre; be a professional and expand on your abilities. As an examiner, on numerous occasions I’ve explained to an applicant that while they may have met the FAA’s minimum standards, they didn’t necessarily meet my standards, their instructor’s, or even their own. As almost always is the case, these very applicants contact me later on in the progression of their career to tell me they pushed themselves to be better than the minimum. In other words, they strived for excellence, and sure enough these are the ones who often excel in their careers. By having this discussion with applicants, I willingly made a choice to mentor these pilots.

Professionals are mentors.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Suffice it to say, the power of mentorship is priceless. As a professional pilot, you have something to offer the next generation of pilots. The aviation industry can be a real monster; tackling it alone can be challenging at best. This is where mentors come into play. Mentors create pathways for inspiration and this inspiration, when channeled correctly, can foster much success.

Consider this: mentorship works both ways. If you want to learn a lot about yourself, mentor a junior pilot just getting started. Not only have I served as a mentor to more than a couple of junior aviators finding their way in a challenging industry, but I still rely on my mentors frequently. As a professional, it is incumbent upon you to share the knowledge, wisdom, and experience you acquired. Be a giant and let junior pilots stand atop your shoulders so they can see further.

Professionals never stop learning.

The role of a professional aviator is one that is constantly evolving. Changes in policies and regulations, alongside potential aircraft transitions and ever-changing advancements in avionics, can keep the most astute aviator chasing their tail.

Nothing is more frustrating than encountering an individual who feels they know it all, when in reality they know just enough to get by a minimum standard. While all of us need ego strength to survive, some pilots possess an ego that often does more harm than good. This issue/personality trait has long been studied and written about in the field of psychology. It is often referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which people (pilots) wrongly overestimate their knowledge or skill set in a particular field. This effect was first written about by Cornell University psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. In their testing, Dunning and Kruger found that those who performed in the bottom quartile actually rated their skills “far above average.” The researchers determined the problem stems from a lack of metacognition. Simply put, metacognition is one’s ability to think about their thinking, or the process used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. The research concluded, “Those with limited knowledge in a domain suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach mistaken conclusions and make regrettable errors, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.”

Today, thanks to so many technological advancements, there is little excuse for a pilot to not participate in continual learning – from numerous free or inexpensive online training programs and webinars to simply picking up a book and reviewing what you thought you already knew.

The research tells us we don’t know all that we think we know. We must be better and more inclined to push ourselves to learn and to be a professional.

You must possess a knowledge toolbox. As you learn something new, a piece of knowledge or new technique, throw it in your toolbox. Having administered hundreds of FAA Certification Flight Exams ranging from the 18-year-old private pilot to the 20,000- hour pilot who finally got around to getting that ATP, I can honestly say I learn something from every single applicant that I am able to put into my knowledge toolbox. Don’t build hours; build knowledge with every flight.

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