Airmanship is skill and knowledge applied to aerial navigation, similar to seamanship in maritime navigation. Airmanship covers a broad range of desirable behaviors and abilities in an aviator. It is not simply a measure of skill or technique, but also a measure of a pilot’s awareness of the aircraft, the environment in which it operates, and of his own capabilities.

Airmanship can be defined as:

·         A sound acquaintance with the principles of flight,

·         The ability to operate an airplane with competence and precision both on the ground and in the air, and

·         The exercise of sound judgment that results in optimal operational safety and efficiency.

The three fundamental principles of expert airmanship are skill, proficiency, and the discipline to apply them in a safe and efficient manner. Discipline is the foundation of airmanship. The complexity of the aviation environment demands a foundation of solid airmanship, and a healthy, positive approach to combating pilot error.

The easy to understand analogy used is that of a house or building.

A house has a firm foundation, which is required first and upon which all else rests and is further constructed upon. It also has walls and supports which need to be sturdy and firm enough to anchor into the foundation (so you need a firm base) and support the roof. The roof over-arches all other parts of the house and is the pinnacle of the entire structure. Each separate element of the house relies on the others – the roof would fall if the walls or foundation were weak and damaged.

So it is with Airmanship.

Bedrock Principles

The foundation in Kern’s analogy is called the Bedrock Principles and consists of three “foundation stones”. This foundation must be firmly established as the other elements or “Building Blocks” cannot compensate for a weakness in this critical area. The three “foundation stones are:

Discipline – You will be required (and expected) to exercise a high degree of self discipline as a Captain. Kern believes that discipline is so fundamental to your make-up as a professional aviator that he has written another book about just that in Flight Discipline.

Kern defines flight discipline as;

“the ability and willpower to safely employ an aircraft within operational, regulatory, organizational, and common sense guidelines, unless emergency or combat mission demands dictate otherwise”.

Note that it is YOUR ability and YOUR willpower that is required.

Examples of this might be the correct use of Checklists and pertinent Briefings, ensuring that you (or your crew) do not take expedient short-cuts that may violate regulations, being the best that you can be, using correct R/T phraseology – in essence, doing the right thing at all times. You are, or will soon, be a role model and the tone and actions that you portray will be emulated by your subordinates.

Skill – You will be required to have a high degree of skill in your role as Captain. Skill is developed by knowledge, demonstration and practice. Flying must be continually practiced to maintain the skill. This can be in the aircraft, the simulator or any ground based flight training device. Competence will quickly diminish without practice.

During your Command Training you will probably get very skilled in the physical manipulation of the aircraft (stick and rudder skills) as you will tend to get a lot of sectors compressed into a tight time frame. Don’t forget about the other skills that you will require as a Captain such as, decision making, CRM, TEM or Inter-personal skills (just to mention a few). They are just as important in your new role as Captain and some people tend to neglect them.

Proficiency – Proficiency tends to go hand-in-hand with Skill and they are usually developed together. Practice and repetition are the key drivers towards competent proficiency. It is more than just clocking up flight hours in your logbook. Seek to obtain quality and not just quantity.

Examples of this might be requesting to complete a Non Precision, Visual or Circling Approach or manually flying the aircraft rather than using the Autopilot. It’s up to you (and your Trainer).

Pillars Of Knowledge

The walls are called the Pillars Of Knowledge and bridge the foundation and the roof. There are five Pillars of Knowledge:

Self – You should already have read the articles on the SELF as this is an important area to work on – if not then get cracking and read them! It is about knowing your own limitations and having the preparedness to self assess and analyze your own flying performance.

Aircraft – As Captain you will need to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the aircraft, its systems and components, speeds and limitations, including the airworthiness status and all maintenance requirements.

This should have been accomplished well before you commence your Command Training. Use whatever resources are available to you. If you are employed by a big outfit you will probably have access to CBT, educational software on DVDs, a Technical Library (either hard copy or online) and Fixed Base Trainers. Whatever method you use, having a firm grasp of the aircraft that you will be operating will make your job as Captain so much easier.

Team – We operate in a team environment and our whole profession has been based around the concept of the crew (and others) functioning coherently as a team.

You need to address your CRM and Leadership skills (and your subordinates Followership skills) and how you as the leader of your crew “run the show”.

Don’t forget that your “team” is not only the other guy sitting in the right seat, it is definitely your cabin crew (and on occasions may even be your passengers), ATC, Traffic, Loading, Airport, Outport, Maintenance, Engineering, Dispatch, Operations and your aircraft Fleet Staff.

Environment – The Environment includes the physical, regulatory, and organizational elements that you operate in as a Captain (and you thought it just meant the Met situation!).

Some of the “environments” that you will be exposed to as a Captain are; the cockpit, airspace, weather, terrain, other airspace users or your own Airline’s corporate culture (is it supportive, antagonistic etc.).

As a Captain you will be operating in a different “environment” from that of when you were an F/O. You have far more power and responsibility. Part of your Command Training should address this aspect of your new role in this new environment. Ask your Trainer to include this area if you feel that you are missing out.

Risk – A big part of your new job as a Captain is the assessment of risk and suitable risk management to ensure that your desired outcome is safely, legally and efficiently achieved.

This job entails risk. If you want to be relatively risk-free stay locked up at home.

Now you as the Captain get to make decisions on whether to accept that risk or not (and sometimes you have multiple choices). Sometimes there is a lot at stake (hundreds of people’s lives sitting just behind you springs immediately to mind).

Risk management involves gathering information and making an assessment and then a considered decision based on your knowledge, previous experience and common sense to pursue the safest, least risk option. You will be required to judge and evaluate the amount of risk you (and your crew/team) are prepared to accept to achieve your goal.

Capstone Outcomes

The final structure which goes over all the previous “Building Blocks” and could be thought of as the pinnacle of this “Airmanship Building” is called Capstone Outcomes and consists of:

Situational Awareness – Any pilot is required to have Situational Awareness (SA). Now as the Captain your SA will have to be further expanded and refined and take on a “global” aspect. In a normal Line Crew the Captain is usually the most experienced crew member and as such he is potentially the “last line of defence”. You won’t be able to rely anyone else as a “back-stop” as you may have done as an F/O. In addition YOU are responsible for the safe conduct of the flight.

You need to have enough spare mental capacity to be able to take in all the things occurring around you such as; weather, traffic, navigation, ATC, aircraft serviceability/defects, what the aircraft is doing and where you want it to go and how you will accomplish that (aviate, navigate, communicate), flight schedule keeping, potential hazards, terrain, nearest suitable airfields and so on, so that you can formulate plans and keep ahead of the aircraft.

If you can manage to do all that (and you will be expected to) it will help you enormously with the final Capstone Outcome.

Judgement – In some other Airmanship articles that I’ve seen, some people also include DECISION MAKING as part of the Capstone Outcome of Judgement. For the purposes of simplicity for this article I’ll stick with just the one word – Judgement, but you can use either judgment or decision making.

The annuals of Aviation Safety articles are littered with instances of incidents and accidents that were the result of poor judgement by the pilots (Pilot Error). You now have to ensure that you make considered and high quality judgements.

During your training your Trainer may get you to justify why you made a particular judgement. Practice this BEFORE you get to the Command Training stage. Write down the reasons why you chose a particular course of action. If you practice prior to your course commencing you will find that your judgments will be of a higher quality because you’ve forced yourself to utilize your brain. Judgement and decision making is just one more skill that you will have educate and train yourself through continual practice as a Captain.

Using good judgement and making the right decisions is an essential Command skill and vital to the safe conduct of any flight.


Reference :    Redefining Airmanship by Anthony T. Kern