What exactly is ‘airmanship’? And why is it so important to exercise airmanship to avoid close calls at unattended aerodromes?
Airmanship is a broad term referring to:
- consistently using good judgement
- appropriate pilot attitude
- well-developed flying skills.
In aviation, using good judgement is making the best (= safe) decision you can, based on all that information you’ve gathered about your flight.
You really need to know yourself – particularly your limitations – your aircraft, your environment, your team (if that applies), and general risk factors such as available daylight.
“You need to know all of this to develop really robust situational awareness around unattended aerodromes,” says Carlton Campbell, CAA Aviation Safety Advisor and GA Flight Examiner.
“Great lookout and great decision-making are also integral to good airmanship – boosting a pilot’s safety and that of those around them.”
Chief Flying Instructor at Wanganui Aero Club, Jonathan Mauchline, says consistently exercising good judgement gets everyone home safely at the end of the day.
“Everyone should want that for themselves and others. Why on earth would you settle for less?”
Appropriate pilot attitude
Aaron Pearce, formerly CFI at South Canterbury Aero Club, and currently working on the CAA’s Work Together, Stay Apart campaign, would write ‘courtesy’ at the top of the list of attributes making a pilot’s attitude ‘appropriate’.
“Courtesy is the password to safety,” he says.
“Yield, don’t push. Why are you in such a hurry to get on the ground? Flying is fun and enjoyable, so if you have to make way for someone, enjoy the extra time in the air.”
Jonathan Mauchline says airmanship involves a strong focus on how your actions affect other pilots and their aircraft. This focus becomes an automatic way of thinking around unattended aerodromes.
“It’s easy to forget, when seeing targets on a screen, that they represent people, not just planes,” says Jonathan.
“Make sure you treat other aircraft in the sky, as you would their pilots in the aero club bar at the end of the day.”
Jonathan says that includes things like thinking about what you’re saying.
“For instance, quite regularly I hear IFR aircraft joining at an unattended aerodrome, and calling using IFR terminology and IFR waypoints.
“They’re seemingly oblivious that their entire call means nothing to the average VFR pilot trying to work out where they are.
“The IFR pilot has lost focus on how their actions (in this case, radio calls) affect other pilots.
“The onus isn’t just on the IFR pilot, however. That GA pilot listening should feel like it’s okay to call up on the radio to admit they don’t understand. Rather than stay quiet, a quick call can easily clarify the situation – for everyone’s benefit. That, also, is good airmanship.”
Exercising well-developed skills
The efficiency and operational safety flowing from good airmanship also involves being able to operate an aircraft competently, and with precision, both on the ground and in the air.
Jonathan says most close calls, whether they’re near misses involving traffic, or just a landing that ‘went wrong’, involve pilot error.
“Normally this pilot error could be attributed to a lapse in good airmanship when an earlier decision was being made, for instance, poor fuel management.
“Thinking ahead and making an early good decision provides that first slice of cheese blocking a potential accident.”1
Carlton Campbell agrees, saying that evidence indicates runway excursions, overruns, and proximity/near miss occurrences are often linked to poor airmanship.
“Exercising good airmanship at uncontrolled aerodromes requires a cool head,” he says.
“Slow down, don’t rush, think ahead, and anticipate rather than react, so you consciously avoid any potential collision.”
1 Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation, Professor James Reason.