The Top Five Skills a Pilot Must Learn (Besides all That Airplane Stuff)

On the first day that I met my instructor who ultimately helped me earn my Private License, he said something that has stayed in my mind until today. He sat me down and said, "Look. Anyone can be a pilot. They have taught monkeys how to fly. It is not difficult at all. I will teach you how to be a safe and proficient pilot, that is the part that takes work that you have to be willing to put into it."

Now that I’m attending a flight university, I have met a lot of different people who are serious in their pursuit of becoming a professional pilot. I have also met several who have dropped out of the program within the first few months. It isn’t the fault of the program, or the flight instructors, but it is because these students had it in their minds that being a pilot is a way to avoid getting a "real job" and had no idea how much work they need to put in to achieve what they wanted.

I’ve come to learn that there is a big difference between being a professional pilot, and having piloting as your profession. You can pass a checkride or earn a rating with a little effort, but the true professional pilot continues to learn and challenge him or herself every day. You never stop learning as a pilot. There are skills that every pilot must be proficient with, such as navigation and maneuvers, but there are also several life skills that pilots must strive to achieve and exemplify.

1. Good Study Habits. A friend and I were discussing a mutual friend who seems to breeze through any portion of his training with no effort. My friend said, "He reads too much." Truly, the friend that appeared to learn so easily had just dedicated way more time to reading and learning the material than we had. Pilots are often berated with a whole lot of information in a very short amount of time. If a student can effectively learn to study and absorb the information they will have a much easier time as they work their way through their careers.

2. A Willingness to Make Mistakes. Every pilot will make mistakes in their career. It is just a fact of life. With such complicated systems and flight rules, it is impossible to not mess up eventually. It feels terrible when you do mess up, and you may wonder if learning everything is just too much for you. The only way to deal with such instances is to learn from your mistakes and move on.

3. Quick Decision Making. There is very rarely a flight that goes completely according to plan. Pilots quickly learn to expect the unexpected. It can be something as small as unanticipated instructions from ATC to an engine failure. In my Multi-Engine Ground class the other day, the teacher was talking about minimizing the typical reaction time to an engine failure. He said an inexperienced student would spend 7-10 seconds processing what just happened before they begin to act. Those can be valuable seconds, which could ultimately save your life.

4. Punctuality. Nobody wants to hire someone who is perpetually late. Being late is a way of telling the person who is waiting that your time is more valuable than theirs. Whether is be for classes, a flight lesson, or a meeting with a potential employer, you had better always be punctual and arrive prepared. It makes you look better and more on top of your priorities.

5. A Sense of Adventure. Let’s face it, piloting can be a very fun and interesting way of life. The best pilots appreciate it for the fascinating profession that it is, but never forget to preform their best while in the cockpit. There are opportunities to travel many places, meet new people, and to enjoy the beauty of the world from above. Because of how monotonous training can seem at times, the ability to keep in mind why you started this journey in the first plane is essential.

I hope that this list has helped inspire you to work harder in some aspects of your life, or to reevaluate your priorities. Do you have any skills you believe a pilot should possess? Post them in the comments and let me know what you think!