What Makes For a Good Pilot?

So I have another question that came to me while reading through some threads on here today (so much great info!) and that is; what makes for a good pilot, or what character traits and skills separate the average pilots from the really good ones? Do pilots that show these qualities rise through the ranks quicker? Kind of random, but would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.



It would be easy to say flying skills, or weather knowledge, or mechanical knowledge, but I feel that the best pilot is one who is always learning. In aviation you have to accept that you don’t know everything and that you will never have the perfect flight. As soon as a pilot stops learning, he will fall behind.

There really isn’t a mechanism to rise through the ranks faster than any other pilot as everything in the airlines is based off of seniority. Also, keep in mind that all pilots meet the same FAA standards, so technically no one pilot is better than any other. Now of course we all know that not to be true, but the seniority system overrides that.



I actually would ask that question during my CRM classes and always get a wide variety of answers. We could actually spend days on this subject but what I can tell you is the definition has changed over the years. Most people agree with what Chris said above, knowledge, judgment and stick skills are important as well as a desire to learn. Where things have changed dramatically is back in the day there was a “Capt is G-d” mentality where the Capt knew ALL and ruled with an iron fist. It was his way or the highway and the Capt was somewhat autonomous is his decision making. After years of significant crashes United created the concept that 2 (or 3) heads are better than 1 and created CRM (Cockpit (later Crew) Resource Management). The Capt is still in charge but is encouraged to create a more effective “team”. We now add terms like good leader, mentor, communicator, receptive and open when define our good pilot.

That all said, again as Chris said, EVERYTHING at the airlines is based on SENIORITY. Whether you barely scrape your way through training or are Ace of the Base your advancement will be no different.


Thank you Chris and Adam, excellent points. I read an article recently about being a lifelong learner which was very insightful. It’s good to hear that the crew works as a team as opposed to there being just one voice and decision maker.