April 28, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast for more on professionalism.

What does it mean to be an aviation “professional?” Sure, you may have a rating. You may even wear a uniform or a corporate name tag. But do those things alone make you a pro?

Among the Top Safety Focus Areas listed by the NBAA Safety Committee, “professionalism” is often the most difficult to define.

“That’s exactly what the Professionalism Working Group has been focused on,” said Marty Grier, Sr., maintenance manager at the Home Depot flight department and member of the NBAA Safety Committee. “The committee has in the past defined [professionalism] as the deliberate quest to always do the right thing through ethical behavior, personal accountability, continuous improvement and operational discipline that includes a firm commitment to the practice of active safety management.”

But the Safety Committee is working to further clarify that definition, Grier said, a process that will take some time to complete. One definition the committee is working with calls professionalism “a quest to be the best you can be with discipline and integrity – fully compliant.”

What are some characteristics of aviation professionalism? Grier listed them as:

  • Character
  • Attitude
  • Excellence
  • Competency
  • Conduct

Grier also defined professionalism as “mutual trust among peers and peer-to-peer accountability.”

“Incidents and accidents can occur when people act outside the boundaries of professionalism,” he said. “We can all remember the laptop use in the cockpit that caused a Northwest flight to overshoot its destination, or the Colgan accident that was attributed to loss of focus in a sterile cockpit environment.”

Often, such lapses occur when flight personnel try to multi-task, said Dr. Shari Frisinger, president of CornerStone Strategies, LLC and a member of the NBAA Safety Committee, adding that those intrusive thoughts come at the worst times.

“We have to remember that we cannot multi-task,” Frisinger said. “The brain simply isn’t wired to do that. You can’t concentrate on what you need to do to land the aircraft when you’re thinking about the driver who cut you off that morning or the argument you had with a spouse or a colleague.”

In cases where stray thoughts intrude, Frisinger recommended a strategy of acknowledgment and dismissal.

“There’s no way to stop thoughts from coming into your head,” she said. “But if you acknowledge them and consciously say, ‘I’ll deal with it later,’ that releases your mind to [focus on] the task at hand.”

The NBAA Safety Committee is working on a number of deliverables regarding professionalism, including recommendations for best practices and a personal checklist that is being designed to keep the issue top-of-mind.