5 Ways You’re an Unsafe Pilot and Don’t Even Know It

In your flying career, you 100% have run into pilots where the encounter left you scratching your head and thinking, “how the heck did that guy even earn his license?” You have likely expressed the same sentiment while driving too, maybe even on the way to the airport. “Holy crap! They shouldn’t be allowed to drive!”

But that’s just it. Is it ALL just other pilots, or do you yourself deserve your license? See where you stack against this list, and if you cannot improve upon the areas you are falling short.


  1. You don’t read your aircraft’s manual or study SOPs.

If you are the type that only cracks open a manual before a flight test, this one is especially for you.

In my career, I only have ever met a handful of pilots who have gone above and beyond to keep sharp on SOPs, emergency procedures, and aircraft systems. The rest of us all seem to fall somewhere in between ‘dang, I forget it already’ and ‘practically a training captain’ . You know who’s usually a better pilot? Hint, it’s not the forgetful guys.

Letting this knowledge slip away can cause us to pay a high, and avoidable, price. A good rule of thumb is that anything you need to know for a check ride should be committed to memory.

Forgetting the zero fuel weight of the plane, no problem! Happens to all of us. It’s when you go home and don’t bother going over the important aircraft weights that you forgot earlier that it becomes a problem.

Big problem-o, easy fix.

  1. You aren’t reporting safety issues to a safety management system (SMS).

All companies have some form of system, usually online, to report safety concerns. This system has to be non-punitive for it to be worth your time. So if your company does not work this way, just skip over this section and quit your job.

Otherwise, use the heck out of that system. It’s a way to protect yourself in case you make a mistake while on duty. It helps your company provide better support and training, and helps all of the pilots learn from each other’s mistakes. There are zero negatives here! I like how it keeps you accountable, and encourages examining your own actions for things that could have been done differently.

  1. You have an attitude problem.

This one is tough to judge for yourself. There are TWO invaluable metrics that I use for myself when I do my own little internal audit.

The first: when I am at work, are my emotions primarily negative, or are they positive? If I am experiencing more negative emotions than positive, and seem to have an external source to blame for all of them (perhaps a co-worker), then I know I am veering off to attitude problem territory and that the brakes need to be pumped NOW.

The second has to do with your conversations with others. Imagine you have a balancing scale, with one side being “conversation about self,” and the other, “conversation about others”. Which side is heavier for you? Are you spending most of your day dominating conversations with talk of yourself, or are you actively listening and showing interest in what others have to say?

If the side of the scale with “ME ME ME” is touching the table, you probably are lugging around a bad attitude too.

Bad attitudes lead to nothing but problems in the cockpit. They can manifest as someone having issues taking direction, not speaking up if there is a problem, or aggressively dominating the rest of the crew. It’s better to root out these issues so you’re left a more balanced and wiser pilot.

  1. You don’t try to understand the big weather picture before a flight.

There is nothing more silly dangerous than causally checking the METAR/TAF, and then hopping into an airplane. The TAF is a solid source of forecast information for a narrow area around the airport, but that’s all. If you’re not looking at the GFA too, you’re missing out on the bigger picture. The GFA can help you predict what altitude is going to avoid some nasty enroute icing, or being rocked unnecessarily by turbulence. It can show you what weather systems are coming your way far before the TAF can.

Only takes a few more clicks on Nav Canada’s Forecast and Observations website, and you’ll have a whole slew of data at your disposal, including the GFA. That extra few minutes incorporating it into your weather briefing before flight is invaluable.

  1. You are neglecting exercise!

At this point, it has entered into common knowledge that exercise is just as good for your brain as it is for your long-time health. But when we say, “good” for the brain, what does that mean EXACTLY?

A fun study on the connection between exercise and brain activity answers just that. Even more compelling, the study compares the impact of low-intensity versus high-intensity exercise.

The behavioral data showed a significant increase in positive mood after both exercise intensities… The results of the Rs-fMRI tests showed that low-intensity exercise led to increased functional connectivity in networks associated with cognitive processing and attention. (Schmitt, Angelika et al. ‘Modulation of Distinct Intrinsic Resting State Brain Networks by Acute Exercise Bouts of Differing Intensity’. 1 Jan. 2019 : 39 – 55.)

Emphasis in the quoted section above is mine. These findings are especially relevant for pilots, as we could use all the positive mood, cognitive processing, and attention boosts we can get. Getting active can be as simple and cheap as going for a walk. To miss out on this is to miss out on a sweet mental edge you could bring to your job.

And there you have it! I definitely hope this helps you guys up your flying game, and position yourself for growth in this crazy industry. Let me know what you think of this list in the comments below, I’d love to hear it!

😘, Shavs

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