Becoming a pilot is easier than ever before, but there are a few essential skills that you’ll need to develop before you start flying. Here are the things people will expect from you.

Skill #1: Dedication

When looking at the skills needed to become a pilot, no skill is more important than commitment. Most particularly, the dedication to always doing things the right way. Popular culture may praise the idea of a hot-shot pilot who takes risks for glory, but in the real world, people want to see that you’re serious about your studies and obeying all of the rules and regulations.

This is most prominent in ground school, the first significant step towards getting a pilot’s license. Over several weeks, ground school will introduce you to a series of important concepts and regulations. This includes everything from how airports and control towers work to how planes can be flown by instruments, rather than by sight.

Officially, you’ll only need to score 70% on the FAA’s written examination to get your license (assuming you pass the actual flight test, of course). More realistically, though, you should always be aiming for 100% – you should dedicate yourself to perfection, rather than simply being good enough.

How to Develop This Skill: Spend some time on jobs that aren’t difficult, but require constant attention to detail to complete. Keep at it until the result is perfect, not just good enough.

Skill #2: Level-Headedness

Imagine that you’re riding a commercial airline, and you hear the pilot panicking during some turbulence.

You’re not going to be very comfortable on that flight, are you?

People expect pilots to be level-headed, especially during emergencies when parts of the plane fail or become damaged. Ideally, you’ll be able to approach each situation in a calm, almost bored manner as you do your job and tell everyone else on the plane what they should be doing.

Most people don’t have this sort of skill right from the start, so you’ll need to develop it before you try to become a pilot. It may help to remember that many of the dangers of flying are quite well-known, and planes are engineered to deal with them. Commercial airlines, for example, are struck by lightning about once per year. It may be frightening, but it’s unlikely the plane will suffer serious harm

How to Develop This Skill: Put yourself through a variety of situations that feel dangerous, but aren’t. Once you’ve experienced this several times, you should be able to start pushing past your fear and focusing on the things you know you should be doing.

Skill #3: Quick Decision Making

This is tied in with #2 – when a plane has an emergency, you don’t always have the luxury of gliding for hours and getting someone on the ground to walk you through emergency landing procedures. In fact, you may only have seconds to react appropriately.

Being able to make correct split-second decisions is easily one of the most important skills you’ll have. As long as you remain calm, you’ll be able to focus on what should be done instead of what your fight-or-flight response thinks is best.

How to Develop This Skill: Regularly put yourself in situations where you have only a short time to provide the correct answer. Some people like to participate in quiz games or competitions, while others participate in sports or other activities that require them to exercise their judgment.

Skill #4: Knowing When To Break The Rules

Aviation guidelines exist for a reason, and when you’re asking, “what qualifications do pilots need?”, the ability to obey the regulations is pretty high on the list. That said, there are times when you may need to break the rules.

In this sense, it’s a lot like driving a car. Yes, there are rules for the road – but states often tell people to ignore the rules if it’s necessary to prevent a collision. If you have a choice between running a light that just turned red or slamming on the brakes when someone’s tailgating you, going through the intersection may be the best option.

Similarly, you may someday find that you must land in an unusual area, adapt to a troublesome passenger, or talk back to a control tower and have someone else change course. Hopefully, you’ll never need to do any of these things, but it’s always better to prepare for emergencies ahead of time.

How to Develop This Skill: It’s not like you can just go through a program that teaches you to break the rules. Rather, you can only develop this skill by practicing good judgment and becoming familiar with the best way to react to any given situation. If you’re familiar with the correct way to do things, you should also be able to figure out when the ‘correct’ way is wrong in each situation.

Skill #5: Trusting Something Other Than Yourself

Pilots like to be in control of things – they’re the master of the aircraft and all the world around them. However, what our bodies tell us can be wrong, and that’s why pilots need to learn to trust their instruments more than their gut feelings.

Of course, tools can be mistaken, too. Regular inspections and maintenance help to avoid problems, but if there’s a big difference between what you think is happening and what the instruments show, you’ll need to adapt. When asking “what do you need to be an airline pilot?”, the ability to both trust something else and figure out if that something is worth your continuing trust is vital.

One method is to get in contact with a control tower or other station that can check your progress. If they see that your course is different from what you think it is, you can start to pinpoint the problem and get back on-track.

How to Develop This Skill: Regularly participate in exercises where you have to trust someone else to give you instructions. By giving up control on a regular basis, you’ll be more comfortable with relying on others.

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