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Overcoming fear

fear of flying pilotTraining in the airline industry is synonymous with safety. Every course that pilots do has to do with safety. Yesterday I was at a refresher training course about human factors training. This training is non technical, in other words it has nothing to do with ‘flying the plane’, the thing that was once called stick and rudder stuff. This training has been in place for over 30 years and modern accident statistics show that it works.


Human factors training as I have said here before is about the personal interaction between crew members and involves subjects like decision making, stress communication, workload management and so on. It enables crews to operate more effectively.

Modern aircraft are so reliable that it is very very unusual for anything to malfunction. However when things do go wrong it comes as a surprise!

The human reaction to surprise is called startle response … we know this from our own experiences in life. An unexpected noise, a flash of light or door being opened suddenly  makes us jump.

The stuff of startle is very useful to fearful flyers. There are two parts, first the reaction to something and then the effect it has on us over a short or long period. This second part is called resilience. That is our ability to recover to normal in the face of surprise, disappointment or fear.

Fearful flyers need resilience. Typically they will have suffered set back after setback and the fear of flying limits their ability to get a clear picture of normality and reality ( with regard to flying). A fearful flyer has a long time to both dwell and recover from their setbacks a pilot may have just a few seconds.

Resilience is our ability to bounce back, to avoid dwelling on failure, learn and move forward. To achieve this we need to:

Challenge: difficulty and think of it as opportunity.

Commit: Make it a target to overcome your fear.

Control: Control this the things you can and leave the rest to other people. (Leave the weather to the pilot)

You can achieve these three things  by being optimistic about success, by avoiding self criticism and personal blame.

Captain Keith







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