What do Shared Goals, Shared Knowledge, and Mutual Respect Have in Common with a Major Airline, a World Flight, and Epic Flight Academy?

Captain Judy in Magadan, Russia

Captain Judy in Magadan, Russia with Crew and Passengers (Note: Passengers generally wear uniforms on world flights for security purpose)

“Citation N178SF, do you need assistance?” (stated in a heavy Russian accent)

The Sakhalinsk air traffic controller gave us a straight-out departure on Runway 19. I was once again left seat and my first officer, Edwin, busy with communications. I had almost thawed from the biting Russian cold as the Citation climbed effortlessly at three thousand feet per minute. We were climbing through solid gray clouds when suddenly the advanced avionics technology displayed on our glass cockpit went blank! Both displays were totally dark, which left us with no instruments or navigation aids. We were in the ‘soup,’ surrounded by clouds, with total instrument failure. My eyes immediately went to the back-up steam gauges.  Edwin and I looked at each other for a moment in disbelief before he alerted air traffic controllers of our predicament, then requested headings. In a heavy Russian accent, the controller asked, “Citation N178SF, do you need assistance?” Edwin responded, “Stand-by…”

It is rare, but we had a complete electronic system malfunction. I kept the airplane on heading and wings level using the few analog back-up instruments while Edwin reached for our navigational paper charts. I was relieved that our Crew Resource Management (CRM) training paid off. Utilizing CRM provided a positive experience easing the load and helping assure our safety. After what seemed like an eternity, ten minutes later the cockpit screen displays returned.  We had planned, trained, prepared for the ‘what if,’ and these long ten minutes were evidence of the value on the time well spent.

My world flight crew agreed on practicing Crew Resource Management (CRM) at airline standard. We trained to know exactly why and what each crew member’s responsibilities were.  As a standard procedure, if one team member questioned the safety of our flight, then we’d all address the concerns without question. We would then make a group decision on the best course of action. This proved invaluable on several occasions, keeping the peace and all of us safe.

After the world flight, I longed for returning to my true passion: flight training. Through research, I discovered Epic Flight Academy and recognized that it was known for excellence in producing the safest, most talented pilots in the world. I asked myself, “How was Epic able to accomplish such awesome recognition?” I later discovered that Epic implemented the concepts of The Southwest Airlines Way, a professional development manuscript written by Jody Hoffer Gittell. Southwest Airlines focuses on creating shared goals, providing shared knowledge, and promoting mutual respect amongst all its employees.

These elements of teamwork have created one of the most successful airlines in the United States and contributed to the excellence seen here at Epic. A culture of shared goals creates tremendous energy toward objectives. SWA employees share the goal of maintaining customer service excellence. They ensure that all employees understand the big picture and how their job influences their shared goal of excellent customer service. The same can be said about my crew on our world flight. We all shared the goal working together to safely visit 35 countries enlightening and exciting students about aviation and space careers. Without everyone’s commitment to this goal, inconsistencies could have caused us to lose focus on our mission and issues would have arisen. Just like SWA and my world flight, shared goals are also found at Epic Flight Academy. One of our most important shared goals is assisting students in achieving their dream of becoming commercial pilots in the safest and most efficient way possible. Every staff member understands this goal and will go out of their way to ensure that every student receives the utmost respect and support along their steps into the world of aviation. It is seen on campus every day, whether from our administrative staff, scheduling and dispatch personnel, or in the classrooms and aircraft: we want students to succeed.

Finally, at Southwest Airlines, shared knowledge is crucial for smooth operations at the ramp and in the sky. SWA understands that employees must understand their role and how everyone else’s skills and knowledge add to the company’s goals. SWA uses the example of a ground crew member stating, “Pilots must do A, B, and C before take-off. So, as ground crew, we need to get this to the pilot right away.”

An example of shared knowledge during my world flight would be during the preflight in Fukishima, Japan. We practiced Crew Resource Management (CRM) even during our preflight responsibilities. Each crew member had specific preflight duties. One crew member was responsible for checking the jet engines while the first officer and I were in the cockpit finishing cockpit checks. This was when the outside crew member poked his head in the cabin door stating we may have a problem. He explained, “The right engine oil pop-out valve is popped out.”  We all went out to inspect as if in disbelief. Sure enough, the usual little black dot was red. The engine valve pops out as an indication the oil filter is being bypassed. This is a preventative measure in case there are particles in the oil that would damage the engines. Our first thoughts were that pieces of jet engine were in the oil. One crew member immediately called the Japan Citation Service Center, the other crew member called the United States Citation Service Center, while I contacted our Fukishima sponsors. We were fortunate that after an oil analysis, it was a faulty pop-out valve with an easy replacement. Shared knowledge for successful outcomes.

Shared Knowledge enhances the talents of Epic employees for a coordinated, well-rounded training experience. Our staff shares the knowledge and understanding of not only aviation, but also scheduling and assisting students in a timely manner when issues arise. In return, students acquire the shared knowledge provided from incredible resources, such as our experienced instructors, student service staff and course managers, and our online learning platform, Schoology.

SWA values all employees’ contribution with mutual respect.  No one department is any more important than another, because without one department working at its fullest capability, all other departments fall short. The same can be said in relation to my world flight; mutual respect was key for safely accomplishing the flight. We all understood how important and interconnected each crew member’s experiences and roles in the endeavor were, allowing for the flight to go smoothly, even when mid-flight issues occurred. All Epic employees have mutual respect for each staff member, as well as for all students. All students are significant to our staff, even though every student learns and requires assistance differently. We all work together to ensure that all students succeed in their dreams of becoming a pilot in a safe, efficient manner.

The outcome of a total technology failure while climbing through Russian airspace or an engine malfunction during a preflight in Japan might have gone very differently if we had not practiced the core values of shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect. Epic students leave our academy with not only the aviation knowledge required to be commercial pilots worldwide, but also these three powerful mindsets to experience, learn, and carry forth into their careers.

-by Captain Judy Rice (“Captain Judy” teaches Ground School at Epic Flight Academy. She is well-known in professional aviation circles for her round-the-world ambassador flight in a Citation.)