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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Power of Community

The other day my husband and I were taking our morning walk, and I told him that I felt detached from the new airline. I felt there was something disconnected, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I felt that many pilots were becoming restless, and discontent. I was feeling isolated from my job.

Was it the new contract? Was it adapting to new ways of doing things? No! I’ve been there done that many times. And then I figured it out.

Amsterdam Layover: Fourth of July 2010

The Old Training Days

I remember the days when pilots attended initial ground school together. We would learn from each other during discussions with our manuals as reference material. We had a real person standing in front of us, who knew the plane better than anyone. Twice a year we would return to the schoolhouse and share stories of what happened on the line. Hangar Flying. We’d listen to executives as they dropped in as guest speakers and we became connected with the breath of the organization. We would discuss hot topics. Systems. Operational changes. This was a time for our community of pilots to come together and be part of something bigger than themselves.  These were the good old days.

Singapore Layover: Breakfast with the orangutans


We learn on a disk at home for initial and recurrent. The only contact with “a” fellow pilot is during a trip. What if you’re on reserve? You could go months without ever seeing another pilot. Some view this as a conspiracy to keep the pilots divided. I see this as a financial issue to save money. But at what cost? What is isolating pilots doing to their health? Physical or mental?

Museum of Flight Boeing 747 Last Flight Party

Power of Community

I just finished a fantastic book, Outliers The Story of Success


1.   Something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.
2.     A statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample

The introduction begins with the mystery of the Roseto people, originally from Roseto Italy, living in Pennsylvania. Rarely, if ever, was there someone from Roseto under the age of sixty-five with heart disease. It didn’t matter if they drank, smoke and ate lard in their pizza.

Researchers learned that the death rate for men over 65 was half that of the entire U.S. And that the death rate for all causes was 30-35% lower than expected. Why?


Delayed freighter in Anchorage... making the best of it.

Flight Crew Health

I recently spoke to a captain that referred to pilots as Gypsies, due to the fact we live a Nomadic and isolated lifestyle. He’s right. But real Gypsies have a power of community. New generation pilots don't. How does isolation impact mental health?

Do you believe that bringing pilots together in a group to discuss  matters of aircraft performance, as well as personal performance will help safety? Is there a correlation?

Could this power of community... knowing and sharing time with our fellow pilots...increase our physical and mental health? Will we start seeing more heart disease with the separation and distance of the crew members thanks to the at home training?

Dallas: Women in Aviation 2012

General Aviation and Pilot Groups

I’m a member of the Seattle Museum of Flight, Seattle ninety-nines, Women in Aviation, and ISA+21. Do these aviation groups understand the power and importance of community and family? Maybe we can learn something from them and carry the power forward to our airline families.

Do you belong to an Aviation Family? A writers family? Who is your community? Get one... your health could depend upon it. 

Enjoy the Journey
XO Karlene


  1. After taking about a decade break from flying, I joined the EAA community not to get back into flying but to just be part of a community. Hanging out with pilots is fun. After a few months, the itch was too great and I decided to get current again and I'm working on my instrument rating.

    I'm also a member of AOPA and the Civil Air Patrol. Joined both after joining EAA.

    Yes, a community serves a significant purpose. One that should be seen as having a great ROI.

    Leadership perspective that the same benefit of community can be achieved by using new technology is not limited to just your airline or industry. I see it daily. I'm in IT and I know there are those that think using the tools we built should also reduce in person meetings. After the telephone was invented, people still wanted to travel to see family, friends, and customers. Technology has it's place and is a tool for specific situations. We're still learning how to define those situations. It's the new way "to do more with less". I think I first heard that term in the late 80's or early 90's. That thought has been dialed in significantly since then.

    It's sad. Where do Leaders think innovation and collaboration is going to come from? Do people really think we can live in a new global market and travel less and gather less? Seems paradoxical.
    Maybe a new airline will emerge formed by pilots that gather and work together as a community and operated around what is best for the crew and employees serving customer. Call it: Peoples Express. Oh wait. Maybe a different name.

    1. Dan, That's great you joined all those groups. You get it. I think this isolated world we live can be just that. Today a person could buy their groceries on line, and have them delivered. Attend school on line. Communicate via social media and never really talk to a person. People need people. How far will it go?

      I'm afraid the leaders aren't thinking. It's all about the money. Unfortunately. Yes.. that new airline sounds great. Peoples Express... another one bites the dust. So sad. But a great idea. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Karlene,

    You've made an important point. Here's some evidence both ways.

    POSITIVE: My aviation community is my local EAA chapter. We meet formally monthly but there are lots of interactions in between. At many meetings the CFIs (well, mostly me) do free ground school workshops, or the mechanics do hands-on training. We've had a few incidents but by-and-large everybody builds and flies right! And we have fun!

    POSITIVE: My writer's group meets monthly. Each meeting includes a book report and a reading of a member's work. And dessert! The members have written some great stuff (not much published yet...). And we have fun!

    NEGATIVE: I used to fly part-time for a charter company (lost that job due to health) where I was a check airman. We had 4 Senecas flying 3 nightly scheduled routes, and as check airman I made sure that everyone knew how to "fly right." There were no pilot-induced incidents during my time as check airman. But when the freight routes went away so did my check airman role.

    Now the company has "moved up" to turboprops and jets and the training is outsourced. No more classes, just individuals going to a remote training facility that doesn't know the customers, airports, or routes, but that gets all the boxes checked. There is little or no camaraderie and little or no sharing of lore.

    The result: a sequence of expensive and embarassing incidents (no accidents, knock on wood). This week a pilot I tried in vain to train flew a turboprop into hail, doing massive damage to nacelles, exhaust stacks, and leading edges. I feel that I could have prevented this accident if I had been allowed to continue offering classes and newsletters and reminders and encouraging camaradery. But the damage is done.

    And nobody seems to be having fun!

    1. Jim, I am sorry for the health issues. I hope that can get sorted out and you're feeling great. I really appreciate your examples. I'm not surprised at the incidents that you speak of have occurred with this shift in outsourced training. Not to mention how frustrating to know that this week's hail incident could have been avoided if you had been allowed to train that pilot.

      I don't know how we can shift this pattern, but I hope we do. I suspect we'll have more incidents and more mental health issues in our future, unless we do something.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Down IN south America airlines still train their pilots the "old way" and the reason for that is to create an environment where new pilots and senior pilots come together and work as a family we spent almost 2 months around instructors, pilots, engineers, around hangar meeting the whole department of flight operations from the DFO to the Janitor... I do believe that's the way things should be done, we are aviation we are a family and as a family we must stay united !!!

    1. Rafa, This is wonderful. And I agree with you...this is the way things should be done. You are very fortunate. In the US, they decided there wasn't a value in it. But, I do believe the number of incidents that are occurring are attributed to our shift. Thanks for your comment!!

  4. I couldn't agree more. My writer family~you among them~are what keep me going, for sure. I don't know what I'd do without you peeps. :)

    1. So true Heather. I appreciate our writer family, and you, so much too! It makes all the difference.

  5. I can't comment specifically on the professional pilots' community, but I do know that connection makes a huge difference to writers and to human beings in general.

    Making cyber friends who share blogs and tweets is one type of connection, and it is important. However, I think being part of a small writers' group - sharing love, frustration, accomplishment and so forth - is maybe even more important.

    Well, actually, I wouldn't want to do without either.

    1. I smiled at your comment David. Because you're write... it makes a huge difference to human beings, and most pilots fit in that group. Not all... but most. :) Yes, a community makes the difference.

      The difference between on line interaction and the on line flight training is that the first there is interaction. The second is read and learn on your own, without interaction. That is the key.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Still trying to parse this blog K. I think you are confusing “community’ with ‘friends’.

    Flight crews have limited resources (not talking pay here, but “time & mind”). Since the invention of ‘commuting’ it is that luxury of living anywhere yet still maintaining our profession that ‘robs’ us from that ‘Band of Brothers’ (Ernie Gann from out your way, not Ambrose) thing. I believe that as we age in our profession we allocate our resources differently now. No longer are we drawn to those who share our ‘office’ but to those who share our choice(s) of passion. For a majority of pilot friends I have is because they actually FLY, not press buttons.

    Grass-roots aviation is found at a small county airport, not walking the concourse at ORD/MSP/DTW/ATL or any other multi-acre concrete monster. Rarely do I shut down the Boeing and think/feel “I had fun today”. A major part of that is because the cookie-cutter FO who was sitting in the right seat for the last 10 hours. I don’t ‘know’ him/her, have no reason to or deep interest. They no doubt live in another time zone from me and will be just another sharp-dressed person standing in Operations next month passing like ships-in-the-night.

    At grass roots aviation we are all ‘equal’, for that type of aviation IS the great equalizer. A Cessna 152 doing touch-n-go’s will catch the attention of the assembled airport bums…and arriving Cessna Citation not so much. My own opinion is the ‘break’ is between pressurized and un-pressurized as far as ‘us’ and ‘them’. We may share the same sky with’em but in their sealed world they are not flying. That translate into friendships, going down to the strip, popping a soda and watching the windsock. Think of it like “Cheers” without the booze. And airliners…to us bums they are just a contrail in the sky not even noticed.

    The new reality is the flight deck may have a type of ‘community’ but a grass-roots field has ‘friends’. At least that is my view from On High and Down-Low.

    See ya on the Concourse K if I remember what you look like…

    Tim 8DME_W_ORD TDY at the Captain’s House in MT.

    1. Tim, I completely hear what you're saying. Friends are essential. But a community is the group of people you share a passion with, or it can be the job.

      In Anchorage, that was a community. We all didn't hang out together on our days off, or agree on everything... kind of like a real family. But we were a community.

      The issue is bringing people together from the job, to learn from each other, and connect. Have a sense of a group. There was a day when I sat in recurrent with a group of pilots and we discussed issues. When I showed up to the plane, there was a captain who I spent two days with in recurrent. No cookie cutter, I actually knew what he thought about flying issues before we departed.

      Maybe we should just say we need people. Thanks for your comment!

    2. K- Well the BIG difference here is people who spend 40 hours a week together at a job (career) vs. us-who spend maybe less 20 hours a week together (counting bang/click time)...then split.

      You really can't count ANC as being typical-the Whale community up there was a unique group when compaired to the lower 48 mega-bases with our different types of aircraft and massive numbers of pilots.

      I don't "need" people....I desire and want them, but a select few. It seems to me those who surround themselves with 'massive' numbers of friends are just as 'empty' as those with no friends.

      Friends I share passions I share a common ground with.

      Tim 8DME_W_ORD

  7. Lovely post, I agree, we do all need a community. I am very close to my (what is known as) 'Aviation Ocean's' family haha, will never forget how the name was thought of, but we are all students studying aviation, without eachother, the study would have been a longer, tidious job. Next to that, also my sport community, where we can all talk hours about everything and support eachother in reaching our goals. But, like my mom said: Every girl needs to have someone to talk with and share experiences. That may be it also :-)

    1. Carmen, Thank you so much for your comment. Your Mom was a smart lady. Yes, could you imagine not studying with your aviation family? We learn so much more, and working together makes it fun. It is very important to have fun in your life. Aviation Ocean's Family... I love it!

  8. The problem as I see it is that the bean counters don't have a column in their spreadsheets for this or any numerical units to put into it.
    But, FOps management is held to the columns with the dollar figures in it, and they don't push back, for the path to career advancement is paved with making the bean counters happy.

    1. You are so right! It is all about what the bean counters want. Despite the cost to safety. Which is sad. How can we pull tangible data to put a dollar to it? I think things will get worse before better and they will have to do something.

      What the world needs is flight ops management...(pilots) with focus for the whole, and not for their pocketbooks. But corporate is smart, and they know how to make them stand in line without pushing back. It's all about the money. Hmmm... sounds like a plot point in Flight For Safety.

      Thanks for your comment.


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