Anyone who flies professionally knows the challenges of crew pairing.
Can be awesome, can be torture.
When’s its torture, we have to ask ourselves: “How can I fly this thing safely with this troglodyte?” (Yes, human factors can be this stark. This cave dweller’s a guy, a white guy for sure, more on that later.) You rack your mind for ways to connect with someone who for whatever reason is diametrically opposed to you. He’s also opposed to a balanced diet, introspection, civil debate and vulnerability.
Then the big question becomes: Is he an idiot or am I missing something? He’s an ATP and has 10,000 + hours. His credit is ok. He’s been divorced 2 or 3 times. But what else do we know about him? And what does any of this have to do with human factors in aviation?
Do I dig deeper and try to learn more about myself, or accept the fact that he might be a lost cause? Certainly our harmony is.
If you are reading this, odds are its him. In fact, I’m certain of it. (Yes, “him” not her. That’s another imbalance I’ll address later.) Reading isn’t his thing anyway. If you are in the hiring arena, consider developing some tools that would flag such qualities early.
Racism, Sexism and Other Poor Airmanship Indicators
Since we are all mostly white guys up front, this is a safe place – usually. But all too often a fear based view of the world has made an appearance. Fear of women and racial or ethnic minorities. This fear can be someone’s operating system.
It causes openness to shut down, makes learning tough and certainly kills any hopeful mindset for human factors in aviation growth.
As an affable Canadian, and appropriately Aryan looking guy, an angry, fearful or simply ignorant colleague can be thrown off easily by my naive questions. More so by the fact that I might be on the “other team.” And by that I mean all the other teams. Our contemporary sociological condition (largely media driven) reinforces that if “you are not with me, then you are against me.” You are, also, therefore a threat. Anything that destroys dialogue *is* our existential threat if we are in the safety business.
This causes confusion when I don’t share the fears he might have. I should harbor some stuff he does, but this doesn’t compute when I begin to explain the sephardic vs. ashkenazi members of my community. Or my afrophile mother, reverence for Patrice O’Neal or Louis CK. Our relationship suffers as I explain the impacts of colonialism historically… and today. Or why my dog has a Hebrew name.
Politely I offer to at least ask or discuss how we might distinguis facts from opinion.
Then we must stop all that, make friends, and prepare the fast airplane slow down and go down. We need to put this all aside and prepare for the approach.
Making It Work
I’m not saying “keep it PC.” I’m saying human factors is all about “don’t use hurtful language about black people, women, minorities or any immigrant flavor story you harbor.”
Do you see the difference? Being a bigot is different. It smells bad. It is likely the cause of your poor relationships with women. (See divorce count above.)
As an incognito immigrant, my question is, how many in business aviation are lobotimized? And by this I mean zero critical thinking or worldly experience that is expected of a pilot? Zero racial, cultural, gender or whatever respect and understanding?
When did it become “ok” to become tolerant of the intolerant?
Since I usually play advisor, mentor, instructor, or safety pilot in the few jets I fly, I’m a diplomat at heart. So when you share your caveman views with me about how there is crime in the ghetto … and therefore “they deserve what they get,” I question your basic level of curiosity.
Curiosity breeds good airmanship, pilots and mechanics. If you think the Confederate flag is “ok” or you’re jealous you can’t use the “N” word it would be a good time to ask why? Any one of your sane peers has to question your operating system. It might not be your fault that the way you see the world is behind. We are indeed socialized into our beliefs. And human factors in aviation should not be afraid to what such socialization says about our minds more broadly.
And it is your responsibility to monitor, update and improve your operating system if it is trailing in the 1950s. It isn’t the person that is bad – it is the behavior ad beliefs that is going to harm the positive human factors environment. Your parents or peers didn’t mean to corrupt your operating system. But it is yours to care for. It is what keeps you alive, balanced and happy. And, importantly, flying safely.
Differences are OK, Shouting is NOT
So what I’m saying is that politically, spiritually, intellectually it doesn’t matter who you are … or what you are. But consider these four key related points.
White: If you are a white guy, be sure to remember that, its important, we’ll discuss it later. White males are a fortunate species, yet we squander that political capital by failing to recognize the privilege. One more thing: You are a white male that flies magical things through the air.
Opinions: Defending an opinion is ideally done sans ego. Burt Rutan and Kelly Johnson both agreed, “Always question, never defend.” It would include facts, sources, information and your willingness to learn. The facts would be able to be corroborated by the person you are hopefully not screaming at. I’ll struggle to listen to your argument that minorities have innate short comings. Or that we were all better off at some point in the past. I’m just not convinced and I hope that you’ll listen to the case I can build. That’s how we stay safe, by listening.
Listening: Listening is also a great quality if the other pilot is quieter, calmer and more deliberate than you are. If you start to get angry, emotional, or can’t figure out why you can’t get through to the other pilot, odds are its you. It’s ok, we’ll listen. But not for long if you don’t look inward instead of outward. Want to continue the abuse? We’ll vote with our feet and you’ll lose the best people you can find.
Airmanship: Your world view, in the interests of good airmanship, adapts to new information you glean. You absorb it from your environment, flight conditions and the aircraft. If you don’t challenge yourself with new information, then you might be exhibiting poor airmanship. This applies to the airplane and it applies to your life as well.
Whether it is the science of our planet or “black lives matter,” notice your reaction. Are you interested in the truth? Did you dig down to the root cause to see what causation is? Versus correlation?
When sharing your platitudes about “how you like it old school” ask yourself:
What makes the old school better? Sometimes it is the best way – other times it has been shown to be dangerous. The planet is littered with the corpses of those doing it “old school.” The new school is about challenging, tweaking, revising and learning. And yes, I’m saying that your socio-economic and cultural awareness are directly related to this. Quite a stretch for a human factors article, but hey, I was paired to fly with you, so I figured I had to write about it.
Lastly: White Guys
Consider how backward our profession must be if it can’t attract women or racial/ethnic minorities. And by attract I mean look at surgeons, lawyers and other professions and compare the spread.
Here’s an idea: If you have a daughter, know a young person of any racial /ethnic minority group, and they express an interest in aviation, do your best to support them. Of course you’ll support the young curious white male, he deserves it too. He just doesn’t need the extra help entering an arena where he won’t be alone.
Whether you choose to accept facts or not, they point to one place: Women and members of ethnic / racial minority groups struggle financially, in their communities, and in their sociological conditioning to even believe they can fly an airplane. When they do get to be in such a group, they are the only ones and face a harder climb on checkrides, interviews and group acceptance. Imagine that for a moment: You were the only one of your gender or racial / ethnic minority group in the school, the company, the workforce. It is a pretty lonely feeling, and that’s before trouble starts.1
At the end of the day safety and human factors are about the obvious:
Where have you been, where are you now and where are you going.
Having more perspectives on these critical pieces is key. Being open to challenges on “what you thought” holds true for the flying part just as much as the rest of your life. Time and again, as instructor, observer, mentor and advisor I’ve seen the mirror of the two.
A closed mind will struggle to assimilate new information and will impact safety. If we remain as homogeneous as we are, then our culture risks staying the stale, lumbering and slow to change industry that it is.
And if you are unwilling to learn the potential of all human beings, odds are your cockpit skills suffer. Being open to new information, using it to be better, and stay alive, is our job.
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