Life Lessons from the Cockpit on Values

Oftentimes people ask me what values are important to be a good and successful pilot in order to be in this profession for a long time and still enjoy what you are doing.

Well, values are not visible to the eyes. We cannot see a person’s values. They are inside us, hidden. What we see are behaviors. These behaviors are manifestations of ones values. From a person’s behavior we can more or less tell the values that he or she holds. It is akin to a onion. Behaviors are the skin and we have to peel the skin one by one to get to the core which is the person’s values.

What values are important as pilots? Well this is very subjective. Ask a different pilot he or she could have different views on those values. Therefore what is being written here are my own personal views based on my years of experience as a pilot, trainer and manager.

There are many, however some of these values that come strong in my mind are, hard working, self discipline, a strong sense of belief in oneself. Apart from that, integrity and of course humility. I believe the above values has stood the test of time. It has worked well before, is working now and will continue to work in the future. I also believe that the above values are also applicable in our daily life and whatever profession that we are in. Let me explain why the above values are relevant and how it is applicable to the pilots’ profession.

Hard Working

A pilot has to know a lot of things, from technical knowledge to the soft skills. Apart from that he has to know the various procedures, both normal and non-normal. He has to also know the rules of the air and some countries practice a slight different rule compared to the rest of the world. As an example China uses metric for altitudes (height), whereas the rest of the world are using feet to measure altitude.

Every six months a pilot is subject to a proficiency test to determine if he is competent in flying the aircraft and in handling emergency situations. Apart from that he is also being tested on aircraft systems knowledge, both normal and non-normal procedures as well as his other skills such as command and leadership, teamwork and communication.

A pilot has to therefore work hard reading the various manuals and documents to be ahead of the game. he has to also remember most of the above procedures.

Only through shear hard work, religiously and continuously reading the manuals can a pilot build his self confidence in handling the aircraft in any situation. And this requires great self discipline, which ties up with the next value.

Self discipline

Once in the aircraft a pilot is on his own. Unlike on the ground where a staff has his or her superiors watching and monitoring him or her, there is no one breathing down a pilot’s neck or supervising him in flight. He is left with the other pilot to carry out the tasks and complete the mission in a safe, efficient, legal and economical manner. Of course the pilots actions are being monitored by the Flight Data recorder where all the flight parameters are being recorded.

Every aircraft manufacturer would have its own set of operating procedures. Each airline would also have its own sets of policies and procedures to compliment the manufacturer’s procedures.

Due to the above, and in the absence of someone monitoring their actions, it is important for a pilot to have a strong self-discipline in carrying out his duties following rigidly to the manufacture’s and his company’s standard operating procedures (SOP).

Belief in oneself

Oftentimes, being humans we downplay our own capabilities and therefore we are not performing to our full potential. Sometimes we are unsure if we could handle a difficult situation, due to our lack of experience or our sub conscious uttering negative words and putting negative thoughts in our conscious mind.

We all know the power that words possess. They can either encourage or discourage us. It is therefore important for us to use positive words of encouragement to enhance this self believe.

A pilot has been trained to handle every eventuality that he could possible face during flight. Despite all the rigorous training and tests that a pilot has to go through, what will make him perform exemplary is his believe in himself. Believe that he is good and capable of handling the situation.

I have seen situations (whilst conducting training) where a very junior and inexperience pilot just give up, not due to lack of skills, but simply because he did not believe that he could do it. After some coaxing using positive words and after doing some visualization exercise, he could then perform the task.


The oxford dictionary defines integrity as quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” One might ask why integrity is important and how does it relates to flying and being a pilot?

This value is tied up with self discipline and I feel that integrity will not exist without self discipline.

Pilots represent an airline or organization. They are considered as ambassadors. it augurs well for the organization if one were to have high integrity.

We are humans and humans do make mistakes. Pilots are no different. A pilot with a high moral sense of integrity will admit to his own mistakes and not blame some else or blame to be a victim of circumstances.


In my opinion this is one of the most important value that a pilot must have.

A pilot’s training and the nature of his job will nurture someone to be confident of himself after a few years in his job. In my career I have seen many pilots, timid and under-confident when they first joined the organization, however after a few years they transformed into a different person. They became someone more outgoing, assertive and confident of themselves.

Confidence is an endless continuum. And if one is not careful, he or she could be on the extreme end of the scale and become over-confident and some to the point of being obnoxious. When that happens he could be dangerous to himself. What could be worst if he or her develops the attitude that nothing will happen to him or her. It can happen to someone else but not to him or her. He or she could become too bold. As the saying goes…..”there are OLD pilots but there are no OLD, BOLD pilots.”

Over-confident and bold pilots will get themselves into trouble very easily.

A Captain is the commander and therefore the leader of his team and the copilot is the number two in command. A leader needs to be respected (not feared) by his subordinates. The captain’s epaulets with his 4 gold bars will command some amount of respect from his or her subordinates. Respect, just like trust cannot be demanded. It is given to us when someone feels that we deserve to be respected or trusted. Since it is given to us by someone, it could easily be taken away from us if in the eyes of the person, we do not deserve the respect or trust anymore.

I strongly believe that humility is the way to earn that respect and trust and the beauty is that it is long lasting as long as we remain humble despite our position.

I am of the opinion that the above values are also applicable in other professions. They are universal values. I strongly believe that if one were to assimilate them they will be successful in life and will rise high up the hierarchy in his or her profession.

Posted by Azharuddin Osman

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