From cockpit to classroom: what can we learn from pilots?

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Pilots are often depicted as superheroes. From composed cabin announcements to news footage of a pilot averting yet another aviation crisis, their cool-under-pressure attitude might seem unattainable.

Commercial and military pilots go through rigorous training programs, face a strict selection process and continue to learn and adapt throughout their career. Non-pilots don’t have the same luxury. But there’s nothing preventing them from taking note of a pilot’s particular skillset.

So, here are four essential piloting skills that land dwellers can also learn. Focusing on these skills could vastly improve your life. But, at the very least, they should be useful in a stressful situation.

Clear communication

Communication is an integral part of piloting. So, let’s look at the statistics.

A major study found that miscommunication between pilots and air traffic controllers was a cause of approximately 2000 deaths between the mid-1970s and mid-2010s. This includes the Tenerife airport disaster, where two Boeing 747 passenger jets collided on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport in 1977. The tragedy resulted in 583 fatalities.

To prevent such accidents, clear procedures were established, including strict regulations regarding what, when and how to communicate. Currently, any message that aircraft and control operators share is as clear as possible. There is no place for ambiguity, elaborate explanations or unnecessary chatter.

So, could clear communication be helpful in our daily lives? Absolutely. Of course, this does not mean that we have to codify our language like pilots do. That would be impractical and difficult. But avoiding the use of vague phrasing, incorrect terminology and understanding how our messages might be perceived by others, could be as important to daily life as it is in the air.   

Just think about the last time you felt misunderstood. Revisit the situation and figure out what you could have changed to ensure the message was clearer.

Congratulations. You’re thinking more like a pilot.

Stress management

There are many techniques pilots use to stay calm in taxing situations. Some of them are rather easy to learn. Others, not necessarily so.

But most rest on one pillar: training. Pilots know their aircraft like the back of their hand. They understand every element and know how to deal with each conceivable failure.

Countless hours have been spent in a flight simulator until those procedures become muscle memory. For a pilot, even the most critical fiasco is just another problem that can be solved by applying a clear set of procedures.

While most people are unlikely to encounter serious emergencies like the ones pilots are trained to solve, the same techniques can still apply.

Do you have a stressful event coming up? Then play it out in your head. Think about everything that could go wrong, find as many problems as you can and then establish solutions.

If you train yourself to deal with stress by treating it like an emergency that can be solved with a predetermined set of actions, you’ll soon find it more manageable.

Time management

An ability to juggle multiple schedules and a host of deadlines is a requirement for every pilot. Complex tasks must be completed within a strict time frame and pilots also need to constantly track the time and be prepared for what comes next.  

In many cases, time management is considered important. Being aware of how much time has passed is not dissimilar from knowing where things are. Good situational awareness is achievable through paying attention to your surroundings and consistent practice. The same goes for time management.

To gain this skill, several crucial habits must be formed, including avoiding procrastination, keeping a schedule and knowing the workload that accompanies each task.

As a result, an acute awareness of the time horizon will be shaped along with understanding how much time remains to accomplish each action. 

Now, it’s on to the last, and comparatively, easy step. It’s important to prioritize these actions according to their importance.


Some say that multitasking has two key components: an ability to switch attention and an ability to perform tasks simultaneously. Others add that it’s important to be able to focus on a particular task.

Aircraft are incredibly complex and operating them means consistent communication, navigation and keeping track of a multitude of systems alongside controlling the machine’s movement. Every single one of those tasks requires attention.

So, how do pilots manage all of this? 

By focusing on a particular task. But, at the same time, they must keep track of other tasks that are accessible by our other senses. Then, they switch their attention when its needed.

How does that apply to people? Well, a person can only look at just one thing, listen to one thing and think about one thing. While manipulating several things with different appendages is possible, it has to be synchronized otherwise there is a danger of making a mistake.

So, it is possible to perform several simultaneously as long as only one of those tasks requires thought and everything else is performed mindlessly. For example, a person can listen to a conversation and move an object with their hands. But as soon as that movement starts requiring thought, the focus has to be switched from conversation to the movement.

Therefore, to multitask efficiently, pilots ‘automate’ as many tasks as possible and learn them by heart. Practice helps and an ability to properly prioritize tasks is also crucial.  

By applying the same system to daily life, a person can increase their productivity immensely. In fact, most people already apply the same technique unconsciously – stirring a pot while talking on the phone or watching a movie while eating popcorn. The trick is to learn to switch attention when needed. Then, more complex tasks will become manageable.

Of course, this is just a tip of the iceberg. There are many more skills that a person can learn from a pilot. But, if applied properly and practiced regularly, these skills are likely to make your life just that little bit easier. Oh, and you may also end up feeling a bit like a pilot.

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