Aviation is already such a hazard in itself that it is easy to end up doing the wrong item of business at the wrong moment. A lot of individuals claim that there are no right or wrong answers to questions, however, in aviation there are a lot of wrong answers. It is so important for a pilot to recollect what he or she is doing in the moment and the consequences of that action within the mere future. How do simple distractions change the fate of a pilot’s life, or worse… passengers? Maybe it has to do with injury or even so, death.
Long since the beginning it has been so evident that pilots are the sole manipulator of the controls both in and out of the cockpit. This has a lot to do with preflight preparation, the flight itself, and also post flight preparation as well. Pilots have huge responsibilities on their shoulders so they must be able to handle that pressure in a correct manner. Distractions often come with stress, which is why this is brought up. A lot of times something can ‘come up’ either prior or even during a flight. Pilots are already task saturated enough, so adding on one more thought can lead to detrimental dysfunction of a pilot’s thought process. This evidently leads to a decline in performance. There have been plenty of instances where I have faced this within my training as a pilot. The most popular was towards the beginning of my IFR training this semester when my instructor started to purposely change things like what could happen to a proposed flight plan mid-flight. Air Traffic Controllers could possibly clear a pilot to a designated route, but end up changing that route because something else had happened. It is all about the response of the pilot in command and how he or she handles the situation accordingly.
Reaction time is something that is often brought up in the aviation world, which is great. However, I think a more appropriate term should be ‘making sure there is a time and a place for everything.’ Since the beginning of flight training I have been encouraged to keep a sterile cockpit within the traffic pattern and while participating in the ‘most dangerous’ phases of flight. These phases are taxi, takeoff, and landing. Being able to keep a sterile cockpit means that conversation is kept to a minimum regarding all topics, but more specifically topics outside of the present flight. It is easy to want to talk about personal lives and what is happening outside of flying, but it is important to remember that it is too easy to get distracted. It has always been something of a wonder to me why pilots enjoy talking about personal lives while midflight and they like to talk about flying while they are on the ground. The mind of a pilot is a wandering one, so it is of utmost importance that pilots understand keeping conversation to a minimum is so important.
Cluttered paperwork is such an easy way to let go of all situational awareness. Every good pilot knows that having unnecessary things up front while flying can lead to an ultimate distraction. Throughout training a pilot will learn how to mitigate these risks by minimizing -yet maximizing- their cockpit space. There is a true difference between a pilot and an aviator. The pilot simply knows how to fly, but an aviator knows how to do it safely, efficiently, and clearly. When a pilot manages their paperwork they know where everything is. While operating off of paper navigation logs I recommend highlighting important information such as course, waypoints, and times points of descent and ascent. If a pilot can track something visually within one second they will not lose situation awareness. From private pilot training I learned specifically that it is important to mark waypoints, information, and distances on the paper sectional accordingly. Being able to understand and have a rapid reference when it comes to routing and such information will relieve stress.
Most people do not take into consideration possible flight crew and passengers as a distraction. This is why the preflight briefings are so important. Passengers and crew need to be on the same page as one another. Pilot distractions end in death or injury for everyone. Passengers must be briefed on safety information, when they can begin talking, and what their role is with the flight. Maintaining situational awareness with anyone on board is necessary to keep a keen eye on the function of flight.
Many distractions have been listed here, but out of the twelve listed in the textbook this one stood out to me the most. I have had several moments in the cockpit where I have faced distraction. I have ended up off course, with deflected needles, and even nearly clueless as to where I was. When it comes to safety and information it is ruinous that pilots make situational awareness like a religion. They should always be keeping their eyes outside, checking instruments, and even on the routing thereof. If pilots do not understand how to mitigate the risk of being distracted, then they could get themselves in big trouble. No pilot wants a phone call saying that their buddy died in a plane crash because they lost situational awareness. These are the basic principles of flight that were taught on the first day of private pilot ground class. Since it is the basics it can often lead to it being forgotten about. The fact that this happens is not a good thing. Each and every pilot must remain conscious at all times of what is going on inside the cockpit. Communication is key. Talk to traffic, talk to ATC for some guidance, and really obey the laws and suggestions of the skies. Use your license appropriately, with good intentions, and with a strong foundation because flying is the best gift anyone can have. Stay safe out there, and remember… a distracted pilot is a doomed pilot.