THE FIVE STAGES OF A PILOT DEVIATION
We’ve all be there, or at least known someone that has heard the words; “Let me know when you’re ready to copy a phone number for a possible pilot deviation”. You get that sinking feeling in your stomach, and it ain’t the fish nachos you had at that greasy spoon. You ask yourself; “What could this possibly be about?”. After years of researching the subject, we’ve come up with “The Five Stages of a Pilot Deviation”.
“There’s no way I did anything wrong. I did everything the controller told me to do”. You play it all back in your head. Every instruction from ATC. Every response you gave. “Nope, they’re wrong about me. They must have me confused with that idiot Moony driver on the frequency. He was all f*cked up. Musta been him they are thinking about”. In this stage you get a distinct feeling of being overwhelmed. You are having trouble coping, and it feels like the world is caving in on you. Most times you still have a critical stage of flight to attend to…”Landing”. Your focus isn’t on the controls anymore, it’s on your legal defense. This is a prime time for a catastrophic incident to happen. You need to push your feelings aside and focus on the task at hand. Denial is important, but it leads us to an even bigger stage…
“This f*king controller. Where does he get off questioning my flying abilities? He was chipping at me constantly. If he hadn’t of been overcontrolling me from the get go, then none of this would have happened. He forgets that he works for me. I pay taxes that fund his overpaid profession. F*ck him!” Depending on how fast you cycle through the “Denial” stage, you may find that your decision making process is most flawed during the “Rage” stage. If you are still airborne, or even taxiing, you are still in the danger zone for an error. Just take a deep breath and try to calm down. If you act too fast in this stage, chances are you will say or do something that you will regret. Just focus on the now. The deviation is in the past, and the past has no future. Rage is common, and because we are so used to handling it, you’ll find that it dissipates quickly.
In this stage we are at our weakest. You try and bargain your way out of the deviation. “If I get out of this, I’ll be better. I’ll listen more. I’ll stop being so complacent.”. Remember, you don’t have all the information yet. The controller said “Possible”. There’s no guarantee that you messed up. It’s foolish to get all bent out of shape over something you know nothing about. There is a good chance that no deviation actually happened.
Depression is just rage turned inward (I learned that from Dr. Melfi). No one can make you feel anything. Your feelings are your own, and you have to own your feelings. At this point, you are back to living in the now. You have moved away from what happened (again, you have no idea what happened exactly), and gotten back to the present. A wave of intense sadness will come over you. This is normal. You need to remember that you are not alone. You will get through this. Once you realize this (in your own time) you will begin to heal.
You can never change the past, and if you could, it would send ripples across time (See the movie “TimeCop” for more on this subject). You have gotten to a point now, that you realize that this is the new world you live in. A world where you are fallible. We all make mistakes. Maybe this is your first mistake as a certified pilot. You know what…big deal. It’s not the last mistake you’ll ever make. If you are open to critisism, AND help, then you’ll come out the other side better for it.
The biggest takeaway when dealing with the five stages of a pilot deviation, is that you can’t get lost in your own head. Until you actually talk with the Air Traffic Representative, you don’t have all the facts. Don’t let your imagination run away from you. Stay focused. People are still counting on you to be the Aviation Professional that they need you to be. I can assure you, that no Controller anywhere, WANTS you to mess up. Even though it doesn’t feel that way sometimes, we as Controllers want you to get home safe. Hopefully this helps you
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For another aviation story about PROP WASH, click the link below.