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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

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, May 1, 2014

Battle on Safety

Blogging in Formation is at it again this week, and we are all guest posting on other blogs. Today, please welcome Andrew Hartley. Without further ado...


This month's Blogging in Formation series has each formation blogger guest posting on another formation blogger's site. I don't know about my compatriots, but this month has made me feel more pressure to post something epic than I have felt ever before for the blogging in formation posts in the past.

Once I found out that I would be posting on Karlene's site, I immediately started thinking about what I could post that would do her site justice. This has not been easy, as Karlene may be the master of motivation and inspiration!

Initially I thought I would post about inspirational pilots, and I made a great list of pilots who fit the bill and would motivate people to learn to fly or continue their flight training or perhaps even decide to change carriers or decide on a career in aviation, whether as a pilot or as some other aviation professional.

But for my job, I recently had the opportunity to hear Dr. Tony Kern speak about CRM and aviation safety, and I thought "What better way to pay homage to a consummate aviation professional such as Karlene than to give her a little something to whet her appetite for her newest aviation gig - that of a student again - as she begins her trek to obtain her doctorate in aviation safety!"

During about 6-hours worth of seminar, I took eight pages of notes And also got some collateral material. For those who may not know, Dr. Kern is one of (if not the) most well-known aviation safety professionals in the world. He has written several books, including Flight Discipline and Blue Threat. He is an owner of Convergent Performance, which is a company that helps other companies and organizations focus on and improve their own safety (and not just in aviation).

I imagine Karlene will be reading more of Dr. Kern's stuff during her continuing education, but the information that he provided during the seminar was so useful - whether you are pilot or not - that I thought it would make a great post!

Kern started the session by saying that we are losing the battle on safety because we can never win. That safety is a constant battle with occasional losses and no victories. And that it is easy to get complacent about safety because we "seem" so safe due to our records of "no accidents in 'x' days or months or years."

What we have to understand is that, when it comes to safety, we are really just trying to extend the time until the next accident. But to really be successful at delaying the next disaster, we have to hold three beliefs:
  1. We must believe that even in safety conscious and competent organizations that accidents ARE possible.  
  2. We must believe that those accidents are preventable.
  3. MOST IMPORTANTLY, we must take action NOW to find and fix those things that might contribute to an aviation accident.
To maintain safety, safety must take priority. 

Every flight. Every day. Every task. Everyone. All that may be required for an accident to happen is for good people to do nothing.

Regarding this may make you think to yourself, "Yeah, yeah, yeah... Safety IS my top priority! I have my personal minimums set, and I regularly cancel flights if the weather is below them. I go through the 'I'm Safe' checklist before every flight, and I carry twice the minimum FAA required fuel reserve on every flight."

And to all of that I say kudos! That is all fantastic and helpful, and certainly increases safety. But all of those statements look to the past - "I made a list of personal minimums" at some point in the past. "I have always carried twice the reserves as required" on all my past flights. "I have always used the 'I'm Safe' checklist" in the past. And those things help eliminate links in the accident chain, for sure.

But Dr. Kern argues that, at this stage of our development as an industry, safety can be increased not in the processes and procedures and technologies, but in the PROFESSIONALISM of the people in the industry, whether they are paid professionals or "professional hobbyists."

At one point during his presentation, Dr. Kern brought up the "Trade Guild System" - the path that professionals used to take to learn their craft - which consisted of:
  • Apprentice - someone who hangs around and fetches things for a master craftsman
  • Novice - as a novice, you have been trained and can technically do anything a craftsman can do
  •  Journeyman - you can now earn money doing this craft, but must remain within a day's ride of a master craftsman.
  • Craftsman - you can "hang your shingle" and do business anywhere you like, but cannot have apprentices, novices, or journeymen under you.
  • Master Craftsman - you can now teach apprentices, novices, and support journeymen, and you must also add to the body of knowledge of the trade.
This process of learning and moving from apprentice to master craftsman could take anywhere from 12 to 20 years, but it was a solid system, which provided good, quality "products" from practitioners. Craftsmen could be ejected from the guild for not meeting their obligations at their level, including continuing to move up the ladder, or for causing an accident or not conforming to service standards set by the guild.

At some point, we lost this process (at least officially), and people decided that as a novice, when I have the training and technical knowledge to do something, I should also be able to make money at it. And at that point, novice-quality professionalism entered the world - along with regulators.

Since a novice only meets the "minimum standards for worker safety and consumer protection," regulations were created to define what that minimum standard should be. And these regulations will continue to flow into the vacuum created by undefined and under-developed professionalism - by us not performing to the best of our ability every day and every time.

The whole point of reaching into history to discuss the trade guild philosophy of advancement and standards is this: you don't have to stop at the novice level! The rest is available to you if you make a conscious choice to pursue it. In fact, if Karlene leaves this part in, you may see a Smart Flight Training / Flight to Success sponsored and managed "Aviation Guild" in the future. I wonder if any of the other Formation Bloggers will want in on that?

I'll leave you with a few thoughts related to what we have been discussing, all from Dr. Kern's seminar.

There are times in our industry when, just to survive, you must perform near perfection. When precision is required and "good enough" is not good enough anymore. When you have to score 99 out of 100, and you don't get to choose when the test is given.

Sometimes people brush this off by saying that people "rise to the occasion" in these situations, and others dismiss that idea by saying "People don't rise to the occasion, they fall to the level of their training" in dire situations. Neither is actually true. People don't rise to the occasion, nor do they fall to the level of their training; they fall to the level of their typical day-to-day performance. You can't count on superhuman performance under high-stress conditions if you aren't practicing precision in your normal flying, every time.

You can teach yourself to make "better" mistakes - to notice when something isn't perfect, and strive to do better next time. Say to yourself, "my work today was good, but not as good as I am capable of." And set that higher standard for yourself the next time you fly (or do anything, for that matter).

The question that changes everything is "What am I becoming?" Ask yourself that question and answer it not based on what you did in the past or what you plan to do in the future, but based on RIGHT NOW, in the present moment, with the tools you have in front of you. This requires honesty with yourself and others. You did a meticulous preflight and used your checklists and followed procedures. But did you nail you're airspeed on final approach? We're you on centerline when you landed, or were you 6-feet left or right? If you demand perfection of yourself, you just might get it on occasion!

Didn't we all get into aviation for a challenge? To ask for better from ourselves and get it? And if that is the case, why do we sometimes become complacent after we have achieved our goal of becoming a private pilot, or instrument-rated pilot, or multi-engine pilot, or even commercial pilot?

Keep in mind that you won't always meet the standard that you have set for yourself. But not meeting the standard doesn't make you a bad person; it just means that you didn't meet the standard ON THAT DAY. Just do better next time!

Andrew Hartley is the founder of Smart Flight Training, and is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio. If you enjoyed this post, join his mailing list for more!

Andrew, Thank you for a great post! I am definitely looking forward to reading more from Dr. Kern. And I recommend everyone to check out Andrew's site, and join his mailing list. 

Enjoy the journey!
XO Karlene


  1. Great thoughts on safety Andrew! You're right, that post was right in line with the vendetta of our safety 'Master Craftsman' Karlene! I really agree with the idea that when forced into an abnormal situation, you will perform at the level of your average daily performance. I think that takes into account proficiency, knowledge, and experience. If you're lower in any one category, your overall day-to-day performance will be lower than it could otherwise be. Great food for thought!

    1. Rob, So the real question is... how do we get the average daily performance up? Yes.. proficiency, knowledge, and experience... but what if the crew doesn't know they are below? How do we start benchmarking?
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Andrew,
    Good stuff indeed! Lots of takeaways. I have always loved comparing what we do to being an artisan or craftsman. BTW I'm a huge Kern face - envy! Sounds like a great conference!

    1. Brent, I'm wondering why we didn't make the conference. Next time for sure. :)

  3. Great stuff, Andrew! And an apropos venue here for discussing it. I like the analogy of the Tradesman.

    As Karlene often says, getting your PPL, multi, Instrument, whatever--that gives you a "license to learn." The journey doesn't end starts there!

    Lots of points to ponder, Andrew, thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comment Eric. That Tradesman analogy was great.

  4. We do sort of have an equivalent to the trade guild system:

    Apprentice = student pilot

    Novice = certificated pilot

    Journeyman = commercial pilot (in fact, I hold a CDPR
    Journeyman certificate for cropdusting in California)

    Craftsman = ATP/CFI

    Master Craftsman=Master CFI(?)

    The difference today is that superior technology and basic education allow us to achieve in a few years what used to take 10 or 20. For the most part, I think our current system is superior, but the layer upon layer of regulations and regulators definitely stifles the industry. I wish we could regulate ourselves, but in the Litigation Age, that's a tall order. :(

    1. Ron, what a great response. It made me think. I'm wondering if the superior technology is allowing pilots to do more sooner. But in reality they are missing foundation steps. I see pilots expediting their ability to jump to more automated planes, but when they take the autopilot off, it's not pretty.
      Also... the layers of regulation... maybe that will be something I can address during or after I finish school. If it's wrong... I say fix it! Thanks for the comment.


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