Around the Airport

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Myth of Professionalism


Professionalism, oh man doesn’t that sound good rolling off the tongue? Go ahead, say it. Repeat after me, PROFESSIONALISM. Did you feel it; it’s a tingling feeling isn’t it. NO? Really, are you sure? Huh, that’s odd ‘cause I just finished skimming every aviation publication in the world, plus numerous online aviation “news” services, and even the nightly news and I’m quite sure the word of the year for aviation is PROFESSIONALISM. Oooh there, did you feel it? Yeah, me neither and there’s a reason; professionalism is BS. Let me explain.

Professionalism was a word that once had meaning. Like so many others though, this jewel has been corrupted as a foundation for sound bites and insulting innuendo. Not that long ago, when someone described a subject or person as operating with professionalism, they were clearly stating an idea. Today, it is used instead to infer the professionalism of those using the word. Let me offer an example.

On May 18th, 19th, & 20th, the NTSB will bring to aviation another forum designed highlight the importance of those involved. And guess what the subject is; that's right, professionalism.


Today when you hear the word professionalism from someone in aviation, you should also hear this word, “Discriminating.” Discriminating is a word that is often used at high dollar clubs or organizations as code for “from a well established family with good lineage.” In aviation that family is comprised mostly of below average pilots or bureaucrats hiding their deficiencies behind the word professionalism. Therefore, just like the brochure that says “A club for those with discriminating tastes,” when you hear someone in aviation say “We need more professionalism” what you're really hearing them say is “We need more pilots just like me(person speaking).”   The concept is pretty simple; overwhelm the doers with sayers, create a new norm, blind them with bullshit. But there is more to worry about.

“Professionalism” is no different than “discriminating” and neither of these is any different than the phrase “careless and reckless.” Used mostly as a back door means to an end, the idea of professionalism is entirely subjective, prone to personal opinions, and dubious in nature. Used when hard facts don't imply anything wrong, professionalism, or the lack thereof, is the newest bureaucratic tool in the war against pilots. Even worse, its use is growing in wild proportions due to its vague nature. And still there is more to be concerned with.

This verbal affinity for professionalism keeps us from hiring the most talented aviators from overlooked areas of aviation. Among them single pilot cargo, 135 operations, ferry pilots, private pilots with wide and extensive backgrounds, bush pilots, flight instructors, and part 61 flight school graduates would be better represented if it weren't for the myth of professionalism that falls heavily in favor of institutionalized pilots; military and 141 pilots. Although some of the finest pilots I know came from the later two groups, they are the exception; as are all the finest pilots I know. It's only logical then that if you were to get the BEST pilots in existence, you would have a broad cross section of aviation. Yet again, thanks to many things, such as the myth of professionalism, commercial aviation today does not mirror this.

So what should we expect from this forum on "professionalism"? Expect the check airmen involved to infer more training at their hands is needed, the PhD's involved will offer technical ideas and formulas formed through thousands of hours of desk flying and failed consulting, old "experienced" pilots from 121 carriers will imply that uncreased shirts and the lack of hats are to blame for the slide in professionalism, members of the FAA will say many things that make no sense whatsoever and although most people will be saying to themselves "are you kidding me" they will treat the FAA with respect and vote to implement whatever the Feds offer, ex-military pilots will explain why they are the best pilots on the planet, 141 school operators will argue that increased federal funding for more classroom hours would step up the mass production of pilots able to quote regulations and SOPs, attorney's involved will offer into evidence research that "proves" the ability to use cockpit recordings to sue pilots brings about an improvement in professionalism, air traffic control (ATC) employees when prompted for input will say "sorry, I was on the landline" at which point they will be asked the question again only to offer the suggestion "aren't we here to pin everything on pilots", pilot group representatives will not offer any insight to the cockpit or any good solutions in fear of retribution from all previously mentioned groups, POI's will phone in their ideas from a golf game with "their" airline CEO, and the TSA representative will awkwardly announce from behind a screen while also telling jokes to his co-workers "I brought the condoms, who has the sandpaper lubricant?"

Put to a point, the forum for "Professionalism in Aviation" is potentially the hottest comedy act to ever hit the aviation comedy circuit. Or should I say Tragic Comedy?

* Click here to see who's involved.  Of note are the lengthy qualifications paragraphs for each supposed expert.  Many are so long it's difficult to ignore how hard they are working to achieve the appearance of a qualified group.

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