How do YOU keep it up?

Aviation demands a peculiar form of professionalism, different from many other occupations. As pilots we’re tested regularly – at least four times a year, often more, or perhaps every time you go to work in some positions/airlines. There aren’t many other career choices where you can look forward to a life of jeopardy, continually tested in small and large ways. Periods of career progression itself (called Upgrades) in Aviation are particularly a time of significant stress – it’s just not something you enjoy. The stories I could personally tell …

So one would think the motivation to keep on top of things is high. From the point of view of living in fear I guess it is.

But the odd thing is that the vast majority of aviation lore and knowledge that a pilot may well need to access in flight; … scratch that.

The vast majority of knowledge that a Check/Training Captain (or just grumpy demanding line Captain) may demand in the aircraft or simulator, often just on a whim of an observation is simply not required in your day to day job in aviation. Some of it is. Some of it is, only from the viewpoint of the Captain in charge that day. Most usually isn’t.

This means the activity you undertake at work doesn’t prepare you adequately for many aspects of your profession.

Therefore you need a continual cycle of study on areas with which you can find it exceedingly difficult to find relevance, let alone interest.

Think about that for a minute.

Most pilots do no go into their careers blindly. They’re aware of the long term issues, that their career could well hang in the balance on (for example) a minor medical issue 20 years from when they learn to fly, just as their income is beginning to justify the expense and the lifestyle stresses that came with the job. They take up aviation not because it’s a secure career. Not (usually) for the glamor. Typically it’s because they enjoy what they do – the flying part, that is.

But the further advanced your career, the more responsibility comes with the position, the further and further you get from the fun part (I personally went 44 days without a landing earlier this year) and the more you encounter the need to remember, or at least remember enough to have ready access, reams and reams of frankly boring and often relatively useless information.

If you’re planning a flight over the Pacific then when checking the weather at your EDTO (Extended Diversion Time Operations – used to be called ETOPS or EROPS) Alternate,  the weather minima you use is dependent on the number of runways and the type of approach available , with an additive of 200 ft for precision approaches (with a minimum of 400 ft) and a visibility additive of 800m (and a minimum visibility of 1500m).

Just a small nugget for you to digest.

So the question has to be asked – how do you keep motivated? I’ve tried various techniques over the years. Combining my interest in IT with Aviation has lead to a few projects – I once developed an MS Access Database into a program I enthusiastically called The Learning Database – essentially a question and answer program that contains hundreds of aircraft related questions covering the Metroliner, the Airbus A300/310 and the Boeing 777 as well as airline operations.

At one point I built a program to allow me to create and maintain (and print) indexes of the multitude of manuals we are expected to keep track of – which I naturally called the Indexing Database. Even now I keep a Clipboard Document up to date, with the bits and pieces I find most useful to have at hand in the flight deck.

On top of this, I often carry a set of 3×5 cards with study questions and answers on them, and if flying with a particularly forgiving First Officer, I’ll get them out, hand over half and run a knowledge competition across the flight deck – I realise this is unfair since they’re my questions, but since I have no motivation at all and the FO is looking for upgrade to Command some time soon, and some of these cards might actually be useful, it sort of works out.

If you actually travel to the above links, please don’t judge me too harshley. I was young and it was all done pretty much pre-internet. The imagination in the Names says it all really.

But these are all methods of keeping current – and while IT may occasionally motivate me to one degree or another – what do you use? When your career looks like it’s stagnating (as several areas of the pilot segments in my airline seem to be at the moment) and you finding it hard to get the enthusiasm up to go to work – how do you motivate yourself to keep a standard?