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Bridging the Gap: The Power of Mentorship

Posted 2 years 261 days ago ago by Admin

No matter what data set or latest editorial piece you refer to, the one common theme we see reminds us that the professional pilot is in high demand in today’s aviation market. The sculpting of a professional pilot has a myriad of challenges, both for the pilot in development and the educators that pave the way. Coupled with the fact that pilots “don't know what they don’t know” until they are introduced to a specific concept or technique (hopefully correctly), and the mere fact that helicopter operations are frequently operating in environments with numerous unknowns, having a properly equipped pilot with the necessary skill sets is apropos for success. 

Are we eating our own? 

Training is critical; not just training, but pertinent and very specific evidenced-based instruction on how to carry out specific duties one may face on any given day; providing a newly hired pilot entering the air medical arena everything they need in terms of both hard and soft skills is a monumental task. 

Regardless of the amount of training given to a pilot, the ever frustrating quandary hits us head on when these pilots, both new and seasoned alike for that matter, make procedural and operational mistakes, some of which are costly or worse. And good pilots do make mistakes! Complacency and expectation bias will bite you in the butt in a millisecond. 

Is it the quality or quantity of training or both? Quality of training is a given and quantity has to be taken into consideration as well as long as the quality is in check. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect—it makes “permanent”—the quality must count. However, simply delivering a designated and structured training program doesn’t complete the equation of overall success. If we hold the idea that training alone will solve all of our problems, we are not only setting ourselves up for failure but we are essentially eating our own by setting them up for less than ideal outcomes. Field training has to be more than a few trips around the local area while pointing out obstacles. It must be structured, planned, and must continue until a certain number of flights or hours are accumulated to the point of competence and proficiency.  Adding well-structured debriefs on what went right and wrong after each flight can be worth its weight in precious metals. 

Mentoring the way

How do we fix this situation? How do we raise our own and not eat our own? It’s beyond basic indoctrination and airframe-specific training. We have to flesh out the details. Knowledge is shaped and molded by experience and basic training alone is simply not enough. We must mentor new pilots and help them get the necessary experience they need by placing them with carefully selected educators. 

The desire for the best possible flight outcomes is never-ending and this is where training captains (mentor pilots) are instrumental in paving the way. These training captains are the individuals needed in order to bridge the gap between what is delivered by the proverbial “firehouse” during basic Indoctrination and then starting on their own out in the field. 

The training captain not only guides the new hire on the ins and outs of properly conducting their duties but they also lead by example, which is key to promoting professionalism. Professionalism breeds proficiency, reduction in asset damage, and more importantly reduces risk of physical harm or worse.


We have learned a lot from our fixed-wing brethren over the years, the airline playbook was written as a result of many lessons learned from numerous incidents and accidents. In the Part 121 world “mentoring” comes by way of being paired up with an experienced captain while the new pilot (first officer) learns the ins and outs by way of IOE (initial operating experience) training and guidance.

 Maybe it’s time we borrowed another option from the airline playbook.


Brian Bihler is the director of operations for a large air medical company. Throughout his career he has served as a line pilot, later taking on the roles of regional check airman, pilot training manager and assistant chief pilot and then chief pilot. Brian holds a rotorcraft ATP certificate, FAA Gold Seal flight instructor rating, and is a Part 135 check airman.