AIRLINE OPS  – The concept of a combination of knowledge, physical flying skills and correct attitude (KSA for short) would be well known to those who have been involved in any advanced aviation training program.

Within the General Aviation (GA) environment, this would be referred to as Airmanship, which to many is a mysterious or even undefined concept.

Spending quality time at one of South Africa’s busiest international airports – Lanseria – has certainly illustrated the vast divide that exists between formally trained and assessed KSA, compared to some examples of seriously lacking airmanship.

So how would one define this concept of Airmanship?

Airmanship is defined by the US Federal Aviation Administration as –

  • A sound acquaintance with the principles of flight – (Knowledge)
  • The ability to operate an airplane with competence and precision, both on the ground and in the air – (Skills)
  • The exercise of sound judgment that results in optimal operational safety and efficiency – (Attitude).

‘maintained by continuous self-improvement’

Ebbage and Spencer, in their 2003 paper entitled ‘Airmanship Training for Modern Aircrew’, used their research to define this concept as, “A personal state that enables aircrew to exercise sound judgment, display uncompromising flight discipline and demonstrate skillful control of an aircraft and a situation. It is maintained by continuous self-improvement and a desire to perform optimally at all times.”

Sounds like these attempts to define this aspect are all on the same page.

We all have most certainly seen, in one form or another, the good, the bad and ugly examples of this trait.

A very simple example of poor airmanship (of which we are probably all guilty of at some stage of our aviation careers) is turning an aircraft in front of an open hangar and prop-blasting dust and debris inside. This would normally then be followed by an irate occupant of the hangar storming out and berating the pilot, and then presenting the hapless aviator with a broom and firm instructions to reverse the transgression.

This sort of situation would (normally) never be done consciously, and the pilot’s attention would be on parking or positioning the aircraft, while not whacking a wing tip in the process. It is the unconscious consequence of the rearward-facing propeller blast that indicates a momentary loss of Situational Awareness (SA), part of the Attitude aspect, and is most certainly a part of airmanship.

A few years ago, I was sitting in one of my Cessna 172s with a student, conducting a post flight briefing after having shut down. This was on what is loosely referred to as the Freight Apron at Lanseria – which has never seen much freight activity. However, as it is relatively uncluttered, it is frequently used for helicopter movements.

A gentleman in his Hughes 500 helicopter (a hot ship for a new PPL-H, as he was) air taxied right over the top of my aircraft at about 20 feet and proceeded to shakily alight a few metres away, with the resultant rotor wash feeling like a mini tornado in the momentarily battered Cessna.

An attempt to discuss this display of potentially lethal lack of airmanship resulted in a perfect example of KSA – and all in the negative, unacceptable sense. Zero knowledge of the traffic patterns for helicopters, effects of downwash and permitted landing areas. Skills exhibited was that of barely being able to avoid a physical collision with nearby aircraft (specifically mine), and an absolute denial and aggressive response to the suggestion that things could have been done better indicated an attitude that would at some point result in an accident.

That is an example of conscious denial of transgressions of aeronautical common sense.

Unconscious poor performance is somewhat more common.

The Inner Art of Airmanship – is recommended reading.

As my hangar is pretty full of aircraft when flying is done, or the weather is not cooperating, we find ourselves walking between tightly parked wings, tails and propellers. My bright idea to comply with health and safety in this situation is the humble pool-noodle – the expanded neoprene foam in a large noodle form popular with kids in the swimming pool.

Split along one side of its entire length, this metre-and-a-bit of high density foam is easily slipped onto the trailing edge of a Cessna wing, which helps immensely to eliminate the well-known Cessna Rash on one’s forehead.

Logic would dictate that this item, attached to the trailing edge of an aileron, should be removed before flight.

It has happened on at least one occasion that an entire pre-flight inspection has been done, without the noodle being noticed and removed. This by a licenced individual. Luckily, the noodle’s grasp of the aileron is somewhat tenuous, and in this case, slipped off while on the taxi way. There was a bit of explaining to be done to the fire truck staff as to how a pool noodle ended up being reported as present on Taxiway A.

In terms of Airmanship, this is a lack of being observant as well as a failing of application of procedures. Where it falls into the KSA model is the Attitude component, in terms of how one approaches a pre-flight inspection. This situation is not entirely removed from the multiple events that have occurred in the past with respect to the lack of removal of flight control locks before flight, all of which have had disastrous consequences.

The Knowledge and Skills component have been fairly well addressed through the steady improvement of simulator training scenario development as well as the extensive use of computer based training and the advent of online resources.

The Attitude aspect is a more elusive element to define and thus train and refine.

Aviation history is full of examples of where the attitude of the crew has directly contributed to a fatal accident. The most notable being the collision of two Boeing 747s at Tenerife in 1977, when a highly regarded Captain had a mindset to depart while disregarding procedures and inputs from other crew members.

As is the structure of an investigation, the focus is almost always on what went wrong, and very little insight as to what went right, and this is where the essence of modern Crew Resource management courses is founded.

Dave English, in his work ‘Inner Art of Airmanship’, points out that psychology journals traditionally cite six times more negative aspects for each positive, or ‘what went right’ aspect. Looking down our noses and gasping at the blatant disregard for procedures / minimum altitudes / aircraft limitations and so on, does not teach us how those who have had exemplary careers or escaped a particular tricky situation with aplomb, managed to channel the positive side of their attitudes into that particular success.

English states, “It turns out there are many more places to look for flying lessons than in twisted wreckage sitting in a smoking hole in the ground.”

The entire advanced aviation training industry has made huge strides in the Human Factors area, and with this progressive thinking at the fore, we can expect more of the positive training aspects to emerge, as opposed to simply the lessons that have already been learned.

I would suggest taking a look at

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