For the first time, executives have the chance to test their management skills - at the controls of a jumbo jet.
Ansett Australia has formed a strategic alliance with Real Aviation to 'open the cockpit' of its $20 million flight simulator, enabling corporations to test executive management skills and reactions to major challenges. The program offers three different packages ranging from high-skill assessment to non-competitive corporate reward. The course has been created to test employee skills in management, planning, thought and observation, quick response and major problem solving within short timeframes. One of the first to assess the simulator was Tom Renny, product manager, group insurance, National Financial Management. This is his account of the experience ...
Recently, while reflecting on how the merger with MLC would impact, I received a call from David Huxley of Real Aviation, inviting me to join an executive skills assessment via aviation industry flight simulator. Would I like to participate? As you do, you consider all the excuses why you could not spend that time out of the office, how this skills assessment might differ to others, the actual results - and how you might rate. There was also some initial self doubt. I had never flown a plane and - as my wife tells me - I cannot even read the map to pilot us from Eltham to Melbourne's Chinatown for a meal. But when would another opportunity like this arise and, if it did, would I be able to afford it? It took little time to accept. Real Aviation operates its executive skills assessment program at the Ansett Simulator Facility at Tullamarine. On arrival I was greeted by Frank O'Grady, who was to be my mentor for the day. O'Grady is a senior captain with more than 30 years flying experience, first with Australian Airlines and then Cathay Pacific. Since retiring from commercial flying, he has become a senior instructor with Ansett, where he normally instructs flight crews rather than "green" lay business executives.
He made us comfortable by taking us around and explaining some of the history behind the scenes. We then met the others who were attending the day's session. O'Grady was to stay with me from the introductory briefing to our performance assessment process at the end of the day. We then got down to the serious matter at hand. The initial briefing began by taking us through the instruments we'd be using in the cockpit. We touched on the compass, altimeter, airspeed indicator, flight controls and most importantly the automatic direction finder (ADF). They all looked familiar and non-threatening - but I was unaware just how important the ADF would turn out to be. We were shown the layout of the flight deck and where the instruments are located. The use of the instruments was explained using overheads and a whiteboard. There was the ILS (localiser and glidescope), autopilot and DME indicator. Then came instruction on calculating turning speeds and the distance needed to slow down for a landing. The old mind started to do mental maths with the formula. We asked some questions and the instructor took us through the calculations all over again.
I became all too conscious that I was going to be assessed on this part of the exercise. Until then I'd been thinking let's get on with it, where's the plane? Let's get to the exciting stuff of flying a plane. I was glad that the briefing was clear and understandable to a lay person such as me, because in a few minutes I'd be using every ounce of knowledge I had learned in the briefing. On the walk to the simulator the excitement started to build. Once inside, I was amazed how many instruments and controls confronted pilot and co-pilot. From excitement the mood changed to anxiousness. The cockpit looked like a Christmas tree all lit up. The next part of the briefing had nothing to do with the task ahead. It was a full safety briefing on how to exit the simulator in case of fire or other emergency. Because the module is mounted high on a rostrum so it can tilt and turn as you go through the simulation, it's not just a simple matter of stepping out a door if leaving in an emergency. O'Grady asked me to take the pilot's seat and make myself comfortable. He showed me how to adjust the seat to make sure I was within reach of the instruments. He then sat next to me charting the flight plan.
He checked that everything was set up correctly. We then started the taxi approach to the runway, built up speed and proceeded to take off. The feeling here was more than real. I had so much power in my hands. I was in control of a Boeing 747. We went through all the necessary checks that a pilot and co-pilot would have normally done. We were reaching for the sky. So far everything had felt reasonably easy and simple, even though I had not experienced a sensation quite like this before. Now came the reality. My instructor started asking me questions about the briefing. Fortunately I had been listening quite hard and managed some answers. He then told me to chart a flight plan using the instruments we had been shown. I mentioned earlier that the ADF was the most important instrument because, by dialing in the appropriate numbers, there was no reason why I would not get to my destination. It all sounds simple because all you had to do was check the ADF needle, find out where it was pointing, where was it in relation to destination, and figure out which way to turn the aircraft in order to point to that destination.
Did I say it sounds easy, it isn't. I was asked to go to Sydney. I came up with a heading for Perth. (My wife is right. I cannot read maps and have no sense of direction). However, with a very experienced co-pilot and more instruction I soon was out of trouble and heading in the right direction. I should mention that we were on autopilot, so I didn't even have to concentrate on flying the plane - just pointing it in the right direction! Having been totally lost and now back on track, I had to start considering factors for landing such as:
* distance from the runway centreline
* the heading to take up in order to intercept the runway centreline
* speed required for a smooth touchdown.
This is where the maths exercise came in handy. I thought I did reasonably well, having failed big time in direction. We went through all the checks and balances to make sure we were on course and the speed was right. It was up to me to use the autopilot to intercept the localiser and carry out an autoland. I had to give the instructions on when to decelerate and lower the landing gear - and O'Grady, acting as copilot, then carried out the required actions to extend the flaps and lower the gear in correct sequence.
The giant aircraft turned, lined up the centreline, decelerated through its critical landing speed of "no return" and touched down gently. We had landed safely - and pointing in the right direction! Flying time was up and we were back on the ground. But I could have stayed up there for all time. It was both exhilarating and challenging. We went into de-briefing and assessment and I was surprised to find out how many management skills were called upon, starting with observation, moving to assessment processes and procedures. In the assessment exercise general awareness and attitude to the guidance and directions given was important. Other issues the examiners focused on included planning and response time to instructions, use of management skills for task comprehension, how you went about the task and how competently you completed it. I had a ball being in simulated control of a Boeing 747 - some pilots who train and fly regularly don't even get this opportunity. This is a unique way of assessing management skills. The assessment is in no way an indication of how well you may fly, but how you performed each of the tasks on which you were briefed. I have no hesitation in recommending this program to any CEO or managing director for any future leaders in middle or senior management.
The experience will be unforgettable. It will also pinpoint areas where they may need to develop their management skills further to truly take the controls in their organisation.
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