When Good Enough Just Isn’t


Tony Kern, CEO of Convergent Performance

I spent much of last week in Wichita, the nation’s air capitol, to attend an annual safety trek known as the Safety Standdown, jointly hosted by Bombardier and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).

This 19th edition of the event drew about 450 attendees and another 1,100 online to listen to a host of smart, savvy aviators speak passionately about the need to head off accidents before they happen.

Before we prang an airplane applies to all of us and certainly doesn’t sound like rocket science anyway, does it? Read through the latest NTSB statistics and you’ll realize this simple philosophy apparently was rocket science to the pilots of the 566 GA accidents in the first eight months of 2014. The question of course is why?

Now if I start talking about professionalism in the midst of these accidents statistics most readers will think I’m referring to big-iron pilots paid to fly.

On the surface, professionalism’s a tag that on the surface doesn’t seem to fit with an Archer or a Cirrus driver, but it should, because thinking professionally, according to Dr. Tony Kern of Convergent Performance, can shape how we fly. At the Safety Standdown, Kern was an engaging, take no prisoners, kind of speaker and his logic is tough to refute once you’ve listened and let the philosophy sink in (watch his opening session talk).

Consider the Practical Test Standards, a booklet anyone who’s earned a pilot certificate knows well. It’s all about the limits the flight test examiner expects us to work with … how many feet + or – an applicant can stray in altitude, heading and airspeed for example. Meet the minimum standards for the pilot certificate and you’re probably home free. Airline and biz jet pilots fly to their certificate standards during their annual recurrent training too. They’re just checked once or twice a year.

For many GA pilots, the accident stats say that once the checkride is over, more than a few have little or no standards to guide them, except maybe the required three takeoffs and landings every 90 days, 1000/3 for VFR and the need to stay out of Class B airspace. Sure there’s a biennial flight review, but pilots don’t fail. They only set the stage for a little extra training where it’s needed.

To Kern, professionalism is a philosophy, not a title and it’s one that he sees way too little of even from pilots paid to haul around people and boxes. He reminded the audience of course that those standards are minimums … hardly an impressive level of proficiency.

standdownSo how well do you understand your airplane, even if it’s only a Cessna 172 or a Piper Archer? Sure you safely land and take off all the time, but when was the last time you tried power off spot landings? How about an instrument approach with a safety pilot, an approach where the needles don’t vary more than one-half dot all the way to minimums? These are pretty tough benchmarks unless you’ve been regularly practicing to exceed minimum standards. But why bother? Minimums are enough to pass. You don’t need to exceed minimums … until you need to in an emergency for instance.

“There are times in which a situation or mother nature are not going to give you an exam at the same level as the FAA,” Kern said. “In fact, mother nature could quite easily give you an exam that exceeds 100% of your potential.” Then what? Waiting until you need to stretch the performance of your airplane to the maximum to make the runway when the engine quits for instance, is too late to begin wishing you’d explored those seldom-visited portions of the flight envelope.

Kern also asked the audience how many felt they were in the top 10% of the U.S. pilot group. About 80% raised their hands. I stunk at high-school math, but even I quickly realized how many people overrate their own skill level. The GA accident stats bear that out for people who once met minimum standards on the checkride too.

I’m not suggesting we all begin trying to fly perfectly, but I am suggesting minimum standards isn’t good enough. There’s plenty of room to improve in between. “The only one who can close that gap though is you,” Kern said. We instructors must train students to meet those minimum standards, of course, but it doesn’t mean we must never train beyond minimum standards. Nor does it mean that licensed pilots can’t demand more from their instructors.

Professionalism has nothing to do with being paid to fly. It’s about wanting to be the best you can, every time you’re PIC. If I’m going to try and improve my personal best every time I fly, I’m going to start asking the students I fly with to do the same, because if not now, with 566 accidents in eight months last year, then when?

Fly safe.


  1. There are 2 types of pilots; Paid pilots and Professionals!

  2. With about 50 years since I solod and a bunch of GA and military flying I too have two favorite labels for those who fly. Pilots (They usually get there and do a pretty good job then they go home..) and AVIATORS…If I have to explain the difference you are probably just a pilot.

  3. Hi guys this piece is copied from

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