Any large group of people is going to produce personality conflicts at some point. Throw in the Type A personality and the sizeable egos of most pilots, and it makes us riper for potential conflict than we might like to admit. Given the tight quarters of an airline cockpit, this can be a dangerous situation if it gets too volatile. How does one deal with this? This is a common interview question.
Each major pilot union has come up with a program to help defuse situations before the company gets involved. Because I am a member of ALPA, and that is the one that I’m most familiar with, it is the one that I will use, but the pilots at non-ALPA carriers use similar processes and tools. The ALPA model is called Professional Standards, and like every other committee within the association, it is staffed by volunteers. These men and women are put through a specific training program to help them help their peers.
Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that one of the pilots has a “personal policy” of deliberately flouting company policy in the airplane. For example, assume that the pilot in question says that he will not do certain checklists as dictated by company policy. This is going to make some pilots very uncomfortable, and it may create a hazard. If the offending pilot can’t be convinced to do things the way they should be done, the affected pilot has two options. One is to go to the company.
But another option is to call someone on the Pro Standards committee and let them try to handle it. Pro Standards pilots do not and cannot act in a disciplinary way. However, what they can do is sort through the details of the conflict, and determine where any wrong (if any) is occurring, and then call and counsel the pilot in question.
The key here is that, sometimes, peer pressure can be every bit as effective, if not more so, than other options. Getting a call from Pro Standards can be something of an embarrassment, especially if it has to do with non-compliance with the company or FAA procedures.
On the flip side, it may be that the pilot who filed the complaint was wrong about something or misunderstood something. If the conflict is a personality clash, then the committee member(s) might be able to offer some ideas and tools for avoiding a conflict in the future. It’s often said that we shouldn’t talk about politics, religion, or sex, and there’s some truth to that. Stick to more basic topics and you can avoid a lot of issues.
There are times, however, when Pro Standards is simply unable to help a pilot correct certain behaviors. Every airline, it seems, has that one person who just can’t get out of his or her own way. If the offending pilot continues to cause trouble, then it might be time to consider getting the chief pilot or other appropriate department heads involved, but you better have your ducks in a row and make sure that it won’t devolve into a mud-slinging contest that will also make you look bad.
Fortunately, most of us get along, even with people that have very different views than we do. But there are those times when two pilots just can’t coexist. There are tools you can use to get through those trying times. Know what they are, and take advantage of them, and your life will be much easier.—Chip Wright