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.

ONTO THE GOOD STUFF.


  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

The real, no-bullshit reason why I became a pilot, part 2

An old family friend, and someone actually once very close to my little brother, reached out to me. She asked if I wanted to go for a plane ride.

This is part two of my story on why I actually became a pilot, complete with photos at the end. For returning readers, thank you for reading part 1. For all those who reached out and let me know how my tale has impacted you, your words greatly touched me and gave me the motivation to keep on writing.

If you’re new here, welcome. Read part 1 at this link. Warning: it’s sad. This part is by far the happier part, so try and make it this far once more.

And so it begins…

You’ll remember from the previous half of this story that, at this point in my life, I was in a deeply bad place. I was zombie-ing my way through my university studies, avoiding anything social, and especially not doing anything to heal from my loss. Each day felt like a painful, pointless blur.

So when someone meaningful to my family reached out and offered to take me up for a joy ride in a C172, I was floored. I could not comprehend sitting behind the controls of the same type of aircraft that my brother’s life ended in. Flying again as an expression of joy, and not grief, was a distant, foreign concept. I was not ready, and did not want to be ready. Yet, I accepted the offer.

To this day I am actually not positive about why I agreed to the flight. It might have been a thoughtless choice, out of impulse, as many of my decisions around that time period seemed to be. Maybe a deeper feeling was at play beneath the surface. Whatever it was, I’ll likely never fully understand. That single, simple “OK,” changed my life.

The flight was stunning. The clouds held a special warm glow for me, their shape swirling up in shapes I had never witnessed before. We had the GoPro rolling on this morning, a third witness to the majesty of flight before us. Circling over our home airport, I joked about spicing the flight up, maybe doing a loop. My pilot laughed, but wouldn’t oblige. Dang it, I thought.

And just like that, I was having fun. Laughing AND enjoying myself for the first time in years! I had never have felt more closer to Heaven and the souls of our dearly departed. It was a very moving moment for me, although complicated emotionally.

Before long, the flight was over. The plane’s wheels softly touched down once more onto the pavement, my heart and soul left above. My mind was racing with the decision it had made. I wanted to fly again, and to carry on what my brother had started. I would become a private pilot like he had dreamed of becoming.

On an interesting and slightly unrelated side note: it was also on this day that I met my future life partner and husband Chirag. This day just held so much good for me and I didn’t even know it at it time.

With my parent’s very generous financial backing, and their blessing, I began flight lessons in earnest. Some flights were very, very hard for me. There were times where my imagination would wander off to my brother’s last moments, and I could not do much but cry. On solo flights, I would stubbornly head out west, circling over his crash site mindlessly.

Other flights were an absolute joy. Spins for example became a happy obsession of mine. I wouldn’t want to finish a lesson without a few! Other lessons I found incredibly frustrating (diversions, ugh!), but all flights held meaning for me. Each flight was a leap closer to my brother Lorne’s dream.

I crossed the emotional mountain range in 2015, finally earning my private pilot’s license. Our private pilot’s license, for it felt like Lorne’s achievement too.

I was immensely grateful for all of the trials and tribulations I had undergone, as the end result was a calmer, happier, and more adaptable pilot. There wasn’t, and still isn’t, too much that can rattle me save for running out of coffee before takeoff. Flying holds deep meaning for me. It brings me closer to Heaven, fuels my own self-confidence, fills me with wonder, and is carrying on the dream of someone I very much hold dear. I think I’ll always be a part of this world of aviation, I cannot imagine it any other way.

Thanks for reading everyone – and God bless. Enjoy the photos at the end!

xx

Shavs

The real, no-bullshit reason why I became a pilot, part 1

(Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 30 seconds)

That is the most common question you’ll hear as an aviator. “So, why did you get into flying?” “What made you decide to become a pilot?”

I have my generic, canned answer, and I have my true answer. You are going to come to know the true answer.

Truth be told, I have not shared with many my journey to becoming a pilot. The road was not particularly easy or pleasant, and maybe that makes it more worthwhile to share. I’d like to add my voice to the multitude out there to show you that people from all culturals, traumas, and struggles can become a pilot. You do not need to have the perfect life or have amassed incredible wealth.


My Dad had once worked as a pilot in his younger years, and was trying very hard to pass down his love of aviation to his teenage kids, my younger brother and myself. Truth be told, I wasn’t too interested at first. I had school to worry about, and it didn’t align with my career goals. However, when my little brother started flying, it didn’t take long for me to become jealous. It looked cool, fun, and challenging. I wanted to get in on the fun too! And so, in Grade 12 of highschool, I began flying C152s and working on my private pilot’s license.

I was a lost soul in highschool. Self-conscious and depressed, in my mind I has nothing that made me special. Flying changed that. For the first time in my life, I was special. I was going to be a pilot. I was unique! I had something that maybe, just maybe, I would be good at and enjoy the rest of my life.

However, this feeling of bliss was not going to make its home with me for very long. Throughout my life, my parents had struggled with unresolved anger problems, and finally it was coming to a head. Shortly after I had graduated Grade 12, one small mistake culminated into a violent confrontation, and I got out. I left my home.

A newly graduated girl with no home, no money, and no education, had no business dreaming about being a pilot. I stomped on that dream, putting it far away for the time being. It was time for me to focus on getting back on my feet.

Misfortune was not done with my family and I just quite yet. For the second time, tragedy came around and reared it’s ugly, raw maw. My little brother, my perfectionist, my hilarious little annoying-as-heck but you love them all the same younger sibling, the only human who shared some traumatic experiences with me and understood my struggles, went missing. I got a call while on a mini vacation, and immediately made my way home. Time slowed.

Search and Rescue, as well as a group of civilian volunteers, searched by foot and air. These people are honest to God angels, and I am touched to this day how many pilots volunteered to scour the rough Canadian country for any sign of the wreckage.

And I say wreckage, for my brother went missing while flight training.

It felt like much, much longer, but as far as days and hours go, it wasn’t long before the crash site containing what once was the funniest and most remarkable person in the world to me was found. And that’s it, he was gone. No more would we reminisce about flying aircraft on Flight Simulator together as kids, or talk about how we used to play in the wild woods of Northern BC. God had ‘im now, and I was madder than hell.

The next few years are numb. I stopped wearing any colour, I was in and out of therapy. I hated people, I hated pilots, I hated airplanes, airports and flight schools. I hated enjoying myself and having fun, betraying the memory of my little brother by daring to live. Life stopped, and I would not let it go on any further.

Even so, winter does not last forever, and neither did mine. My spring eventually came, and the first metaphorical blossom on my tree was one, singular event.

An old family friend, and someone actually once very close to my little brother, reached out to me. She asked if I wanted to go for a plane ride.


To be continued…

xx

Shavs