Saturday, February 9, 2013

Aviation Etiquette – Crucial Concepts for Confined Workspaces

Many pilots may not have experienced the joys and sorrows of working in a normal office environment but never the less they need to learn that many of the same manners are needed for successful piloting in a multi-pilot or single pilot space, particularly if passengers are close by.

Did you do most of your flying solo or as single pilot? Working together has many CRM aspects often discussed in flight training, but not much has been said about how to improve or maintain good interpersonal relations with other pilots as well as your passengers. Professional Standards committees at airlines are charged with the duty of advising (or chastising) pilots on how to deal with issues that bare on pilot professionalism. ProStan has the inside track and what you should be doing, but all too often your first contact with them is when you screw up…and likely you don’t even know you what it is you did or when you did it.

Maybe you’re like me and got a splash of cold water at the end of my probationary year as a Second Officer at a major airline. Back then, they had no real orientation for female or non-military pilots, so it was up to each of us to figure out what the protocol was and how to survive in the airline’s very military-like environment. I didn’t realize many things about being the junior-most pilot in the cockpit and how to deal with often-times cranky and eccentric senior captains. It took me a while, for example, to learn that even though I could quietly slip back to the cabin to get a drink or use the lav, it wasn’t a good idea to leave without clearly announcing my departure lest I be needed in an emergency. So I soon adopted the “I’m going back to get a drink; do either of you (pilots) need anything?” line to clearly advise them of my impending departure from the cockpit.

Other unwritten rules dealt with who signs the roster sheet at the hotel for over nights and in what order. Obviously there was some special pecking order that I knew nothing about and when I got my first glaring look for signing the wrong line, I quickly learned to sign last, given my juniority.

As the years rolled by, I learned the ropes, and came to realize that although there are various types of etiquette for different kinds of office environments, in the cockpit, it really boils down to common courtesy and consideration for your fellow pilot.

Starting with the common workplace niceties are your personal hygiene, speech, actions and mannerisms. Many of these are directly transferable to the cockpit or if you’re in a larger cabin class airplane, to both front and rear work areas of the airplane.

Of primary importance is dressing smart, smelling good, and looking professional so you’re welcomed into the group and not shunned by your co workers. One could write volumes about interpersonal relations, but I’ll just mention a few of the non-personality related issues that we can all learn from.

Sweet smelling (or preferably no smell at all) is VERY important in the confined space of the cockpit, regardless of its size. Daily showers, change of shirts, socks, etc. are essential and may have not been brought up in the “how to be a pilot” manual for your C152.

Many years ago while in the beginning stages of flight instructing, I could barely endure the 1 hour lesson, given the odors coming from the left seat. At the end of the session, I had to tell my new student that since the cockpit was a very small confined space, I’d take a shower daily and use a light fragrance (which if he didn’t like he should tell me) and he, in turn, would do the same. Next day he showed up showered and sweet smelling. Whew…now the fact that he never came back for his 3rd lesson…that’s another story.

Normal workplace odors can be greatly magnified in the small confines of a cockpit. From the reeking of French fries that you brought aboard for lunch to smelling of too much perfume worn by unknowing flight attendants or passengers (if you’re in a charter or instructional situation), all can be very unpleasant and hard to dissipate. The best solution is to prevent the problem before it occurs. Finish your fries before you board and keep your perfume/aftershave to a bare minimum.

We all have to eat sometime, but choosing the time carefully and inquiring of the other crewmember if it’s OK with them, often can save you lots of grief. Keep your picnic layout to a minimum and consider the problems associated with eating smelly foods (onions can make the cockpit reek for some time) which might better be consumed at the time of purchase.

It should be obvious the problems that can arise when food or drink is spilled on workplace surfaces in the cockpit. Careful planning will avoid a dangerous situation like the one I had while shooting an approach to LAX. Having spilled just a few drops of water onto the range selector for the FMC (Flight Management Computer) I was horrified to see my glass HSI screen totally filled with every intersection within a 50 mile radius, completely blocking the course information I needed to view and making it impossible to fly the approach. Quickly ‘fessing up, I told the Copilot it was necessary for him to fly the approach and landing, saving the day. Fortunately things were back to normal once we reached the gate where I did confess my sins to maintenance and asked them to check it out. Heat gun in hand, they arrived to fix the problem and thanked me for my honesty. Plain water, they said, can be dried quickly. Sticky substances like soda or sugared coffee are an expensive hassle, mandating to the remove and replace solution.

Keeping your workplace neat and leaving it orderly for the next crew is important. Consideration of those sitting behind you, or luggage stored in tight spaces is also important. Clear handwriting for ATIS or clearance copying as well as paper shuffling in the manner approved by the captain rather than something you have invented. Crumpling up all your Jeppesen revisions and throwing them into a limited size communal cockpit trashbag can quickly fill it to capacity, while stacking old pages neatly, returning them to the revision envelope for a neat, low profile disposal works much better and keeps annoyances to a minimum.

Much of what I’m describing should be obvious, common sense interpersonal skills, but then I’m also guilty of not knowing when I started my multi-pilot career some specific points of the protocol that seems to have developed with multi-crew flying.

Many of us make mistakes we don’t even now we’re making…and that many others won’t tell you…unless you ask. Asking is hard, so better to learn about what’s proper and what will get you a “see me” from the chief pilot, or a place on the “do not fly with” list.

Aviation full of traditions from cutting of shirt tails for newly soloing students, to strict sign-in procedures for crew members checking into hotels for a layover. Learning how it’s done is akin to developing a new set of rules of the road. If you’re not sure, ask how it’s done or whether the other pilot(s) have a preference. Best show your ignorance and demonstrate your willingness to learn, rather than put your foot in your mouth or make a soon-to-be-regretted mistake that will earn you the wrath of pilots for years to come.

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