Professionalism in the Cockpit

Professionalism in the cockpit is a big topic with the airline industry these days. Just this week, the FAA  reminded airline pilots to “evaluate their personal practices” regarding use of devices such as lap top computers and cell phones while on duty. In addition they said operators need to create a “safety culture” that reinforces the importance of controlling cockpit distractions. These reminders come in the wake of several recent incidents caused by a dangerous lack of cockpit discipline. One example is the flight that overflew MSP by 150 miles while the pilots were allegedly distracted by a lap top computer. Another is of a pilot texting while the aircraft was departing and another is a recording of a cell phone ringing during takeoff roll.

I was part of the airline world when the concept of the sterile cockpit came along. It was a major change for us and it was not an easy adjustment. There had always been a lot of banter during taxi, climb out and approach. Often that is how pilots relieve stress. But as time went on, we adjusted. Eventually the professional pilots I was privileged to work with began to realize the necessity and wisdom of the rule.

So why is professionalism in the cockpit still a problem today? In my view, too many of our younger captains want to be nice guys or gals. So what if the co pilot wants to send a text message? Why be a horses *** captain and ask/tell them to put that away? Just be cool, you can handle it. See, then everybody will think you are a nice guy.  In my day, captains were captains first and nice guys second.

Younger generation co pilots are always going to push the rules. It is up to the captain to keep the cockpit a professional work place. That is why they get paid more money and it is what the public expects of them. Most do a good job of this, but there are those who don’t. So I believe our current crop of captains are going to have to grow up and take the responsibility that goes with that hat and the four stripes. If they don’t we will continue to see more of these silly and preventable accidents.

Now that we have taken our airline friends to task for professionalism, how about we look at our general aviation group for a moment?  We too have a lot of new gadgets to distract us. Are we controlling them so they work as a tool for us and not as a link in an accident sequence? I am not so sure as I recently witnessed a pilot getting his FSS briefing by cell phone while conducting a pre flight inspection. I wonder which of those chores that pilot was paying attention to?

Not only do we have lots of handheld gizmos to distract us, we also have all those new panel mounted GPS’s, MFD’s fuel calculator’s and a host of other neat stuff in the cockpit. It is a challenge for any pilot to not get distracted with all those goodies. If you are giving in to the temptation to play with them during taxi, you are setting yourself up for a runway incursion or worse. The only way to prevent that happening is good cockpit discipline. Don’t touch it unless you are stopped.

Are you keeping a sterile cockpit during taxi, take off, climb and approach? Are you programming the GPS during taxi? Are you using the check list every time? If we are falling into any of these complacency traps, then it is time for us also to grow up and get the discipline needed. Remember we are the captains in our cockpits and it is up to us as PIC to maintain professionalism in our cockpits.  Our passengers are counting on us.

What’s your take on this issue?