Ten Bad Habits Other Pilots Have

January 2023

Bad habits can be insidious. Sometimes we don't even realize we have a bad habit until the resulting incident or accident occurs. We get along fine not using the pre-flight checklist until one day we're shocked to hear the sound of metal scraping along the runway.


Every flight instructor has a list of good habits they try to instill in their students, and a list of bad habits they try to help their students break. We heard from several flight instructors and these ten bad habits show up on everyone's list.


Underuse of the Checklist or Not Using One at All
If you're lucky enough to always fly the same plane, you get to know it like the back of your hand. But the more complex the aircraft is, the more there is to know. Then, one day, a distraction breaks your flow or stress makes it hard to remember every step of a process, and the next thing you know it becomes a bad day in the air.


Rushed Preflight
You won't find many pilots who don't conduct a preflight check, or who, at least, won't admit to that. But many rush through the steps they know because there have been no surprises in every pre-flight so far. Again, the more familiar you are with a plane, the more you know what to expect and the less you expect there to be anything different this time.


Multitasking While You Taxi
Flying is about soaring through the air, not crawling along the ground. That's the easy and boring part. It's tempting to save some time in the runup area by programming the GPS or autopilot while you're rolling along a straight line. Often that multi-tasking leads to broken taxiway lights and bent wingtips.


You'll notice there's a common thread among the habits we've just listed: We fly planes because we want to go places and most of us like to go places fast. That kind of attitude can lead to not taking the time to use your checklist, blowing through your preflight or not concentrating as you make the long, boring drive to the runway which, incidentally, is why so many of us develop the habit of taxiing too fast.


Not Looking Outside the Aircraft
Most modern aircraft have a lot going on in the instrument panel. And glass panels can be downright mesmerizing with magenta lines to follow and the mountain of information and data put directly in our faces. In some cockpits, flying can feel a little too much like a video game, so make sure you take note of your surroundings.


Lackadaisical Use of Rudders
This is one of those bad habits that you develop early in your flying days and then it sticks with you until it feels normal and you don't even notice you're doing it. Lax rudder skills can make crosswind landings difficult or impossible. Uncoordinated turns can become stalls. So much of flying comes down to keeping the ball centered.


Not Thinking About the Call You Are Going to Make Before You Key the Mike
Be prepared to deliver succinct, clear statements to your partner in the sky – the air traffic controller.


Not Including All the Instruments in Your Scan
Regardless of whether you're flying with legacy-round instruments or the latest glass, the basics of instrument flying are still the same, starting with developing a thorough scan vs. a partial one. Once again, the more stuff happening on the instrument panel, the more things there are to keep an eye on.


Ham-Fisted Control
It's easy to not sense how tightly you're holding the yoke until you find yourself off course, off altitude, or having to constantly re-trim. A light touch is all you need to fly smoothly.


More than one study has shown that the most dangerous time for a pilot isn't when they first get their certificate. It's about 1,000 hours down the road when things have gone smoothly and nothing major has gone wrong for all those hours. That's when many pilots start to relax and feel they've got flying down pat. Weight and balance can stretch a little bit. Vigilance can slip a little.


It's tough to stand back far enough to be able to see the bad habits you don’t think you have. It's harder, still, to commit yourself to unlearning some of those habits.


How do you unlearn a habit, anyway? Here's advice on how to break a bad habit courtesy of Aviation Safety magazine from its April 20, 2021 issue. (Copyright 2021 Belvoir Media Group.)


Identify the Cue
Stress often is a trigger for a habitual response. As you become more familiar with the operation, it becomes less stressful and easier to identify.


Avoid the Cue OR Find a New Routine 
Make it easier on yourself to break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them. The earlier the bad habit is identified, the easier it is to avoid and/or replace it.


Expect a New Result
When you change your behavior/habit, expect a different result. Embrace the famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein—that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results—by changing your responses to the cue.


Cognitively Repeat Until a New Routine Becomes Habit
Habits are encoded into our brains and the only way to change them is to identify the habit’s trigger. Take a different action and observe the new result.


Obtain a Clear Result That is Identifiably Better
It’s hard to change a habit when the result of the new behavior isn’t clear. Making better landings can be its own reward, for example.


Do you think you have any bad habits? Better yet, let us know about a bad habit that you kicked to the runway by writing us at [email protected].


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