Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally speaking

A matter of trust

Do you demonstrate good judgment?

More than 30 years ago, I asked a noted aviator (let's call him Richard) what he knew about a certain pilot (let's call him Steve). Richard said, "Steve is without a doubt one of the most skillful, capable. and experienced pilots in the Southeast, but I wouldn't let my kids ride to the next airport with him." Why, I asked. "Because," he said, "the man has no concept of safety. I don't trust his judgment."

The more I learned about Steve, the more I realized that Richard was right. I liked Steve, did business with him, and envied his skills and experience, but I had no desire to fly with him.

The truth is, knowing that someone has skills and experience does not make him or her trustworthy, and that goes double for flight instructors. In a good student/teacher relationship the student is aware that the CFI has more knowledge, more skills, and more experience, but that is not enough. The student must also know that the CFI is safety-conscious and follows the rules -- and that the CFI has good judgment.

Have you ever noticed that people simply must believe that their physician is one of the best? The truth is, most people have no idea how good their physician is, so they have to convince themselves.

It's the same with CFIs. Students want to believe -- need to believe -- that you, the CFI, are near perfect and that you will teach them to be the same. This seems to be universal.

During the 1980s I started flying a lot with Jack (his real name). I knew he was highly experienced and greatly educated in aviation. But I didn't fully trust him at first, because I had no in-depth info about his judgment. Then one day we flew from Alabama to Asheville, North Carolina. It was a cold day, ceilings barely VFR, light icing reported in the clouds. We were in a Cessna Skyhawk. We flew easily under the weather, but we both wondered about taking on the Smoky Mountains. A Skyhawk is a fine airplane, but not exactly what you want to take into icing conditions and mountains. Just before we got to the mountains, Jack asked, "What would you think about stopping just this side of the mountains and renting a car?" I thought it was a wonderful idea, we did it, and from then on I knew that Jack had good judgment to go along with his skills and experiences.

The late Talmadge Barber, a truly great pilot and CFI, said it long ago: "Never trust a pilot until you know what flight he will turn down."

How about you? Do your students know they can trust your skills, experience, and judgment? Do they have faith that your judgment -- and your behavior -- are truly safety-oriented? Do you behave in such a manner that your students feel secure with their lives in your hands? It is imperative that they do.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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