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Apr
20
2023

Find Common Ground

Posted 1 years 35 days ago ago by Admin

A key concept in the development of early relationships is finding common ground; elements within each of our lives where we share interest and experience. It is through these shared perspectives that we gain trust and confidence that our communications with each other have meaning and understanding. At times, identifying common ground can seem like an impossible task. As the vertical lift industry becomes more diverse, the people, aircraft, and even operating methodologies look very different; however, the importance of working together has never been more critical than it is today.   

In the ‘90s, I was an instructor pilot with FlightSafety International at their Sikorsky Learning Center located in West Palm Beach, Florida. Early in my employment, I was assigned to an S76 initial pilot training course for which only one pilot would be attending. I did not complete this pilot’s ground training as I was only scheduled for the simulation portion of the course. As often occurred, the simulator schedule for initial training had us starting our briefing at 2:00 a.m. The learning center was secured at night, so we would instruct those students training outside of normal business hours to ring a doorbell at the front door and we would meet them for entry.  

As expected, the doorbell rang, and I proceeded to the door to meet my student to welcome him into the center. Over a cup of coffee, he advised that he was “voluntold” to be there and had no interest in the training he was to receive. I listened to everything he had to say and engaged respectfully to garner some insight into his disdain for this training event. 

It became clear that this pilot was simply nervous about learning a new, complex aircraft so late in his career. In his opinion, the mere fact that all his experience may be wasted and not relevant to this new aircraft caused him deep concern.

My first opportunity to find common ground was relating his previous experience and knowledge of a Bell 222 and Bell 230 to that of the Sikorsky S76 we would be training. As I also had previous experience in these Bell models, I was able to align topics and describe the system similarities and differences in a manner that was understandable and respectful of his background and experience. 

The remainder of his training was quite enjoyable. It was only because he was honest with his feelings combined with our ability to find common ground that we were able to make the most out of this training event. 

What happens when you don’t have similar experience or knowledge?

A somewhat common issue is having a generator come offline inflight. Often, this may be a simple reset scenario however, this isn’t always the case. Understanding the health of your battery and the amperage utilization of the electrical system may allow limited flight solely on the battery to recover the aircraft to a maintenance facility or location that is safer for both the pilot and aircraft. Within the plethora of varied pilots with different experiences in the industry today, how do we find common ground on such flight decisions and experiences? 

Knowledge enhances safety; experience facilitates complacency.

The off-line generator situation I described occurred in our company not long ago. My initial action was to engage the pilot to see if he was aware of the ability to operate the helicopter without the generator and get the aircraft back home. We engaged. He clearly described the way to make this decision and that flying on battery power was a possibility, but his opinion was that the battery wasn’t healthy enough to do so. He then asked me a question: why would we even attempt such a flight if we didn’t have to? The pilot and aircraft were safe. No issues existed.

I’m sad to say that my initial reaction  wasn’t supportive of the pilot’s good decision. I questioned his action and decision to not just continue back to our home airport. It was during our after-action that the pilot spoke up and said he felt that I treated the situation as though he did something wrong. He was right! Although not my intent, my actions spoke volumes. Our company culture supports very honest communication. This event became a mentoring opportunity for me on my behavior, but his next comment is what provided the path to the common ground we needed on this subject.

With this pilot, who is also a flight instructor, was another less experienced flight instructor building flight time. When the generator failure occurred, our pilot not only engaged the aircraft to make the right decision for safety, but also knew that the event would influence the flight instructor that was in attendance solely to learn. As a career flight instructor and aviation educator myself, this fact when brought to my attention resonated with me. 

Where I often provide the experience to mentor and educate our staff due to my expected role with our organization, I am very proud to say that I was schooled by a less experienced pilot that wasn’t afraid to stand his ground and respectfully engage my potentially poor decision- making and action as an organizational leader. 

The ability to utilize our relationship as educators provided a path for this pilot to bring the most important aspect of this situation to the forefront and provided common ground for us both to reflect upon. His lack of total flight experience didn’t influence his decision to engage me or not. It was his belief that our safety culture was strong and that enabled him to engage his leadership, me in this instance, to find common ground to lead me down the correct path. This is exactly how a strong safety culture should work!

Leaders will make mistakes no matter how strong or exact the safety processes. Momentary stress may cause action or inaction that reflects an incorrect message to those influenced in the process. Although it is essential that we in leadership believe and reflect the behaviors that always support a safe operating environment, mistakes do happen. Providing an environment where all vertical-lift industry staff members feel supported to speak up when a situation isn’t right is a core component of a safety culture.   

Knowing how to engage a situation through finding experience-based common ground often proves a valued asset in the relationship development/engagement process. When no common ground is apparent, look to safety as the guiding principle.  

Safety is our common ground!   

About the Author: Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.

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