Senior Lecturer, Aviation, Solent University

Owen Sims obtained his commercial flying license at the Cabair College of Air Training in the UK, graduating top of his class in ground school and flight school. After spending a few months ferrying light aircraft around Greater London, he joined Flybe, formerly Europe’s largest independent regional airline, which (at its height) trained around 300 new pilots every year.

Having suffered an episode of severe depression some years ago, Owen developed an interest in psychology and psychotherapy; in particular, how these impacted on his role as an instructor. At Flybe he was an instructor and examiner as well as a CRM Trainer. He spoke at the Asia Pacific Airline Training Symposium in 2016 on how the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy can be applied to flight training, has addressed the Human Factors Roundtable in Memphis, Tennessee, and spoke at EATS, both in 2017 on the application of mindfulness, in 2018 on person-centered psychotherapy, and last year on managing startle and surprise. He has a bachelors’ degree in philosophy and is working towards another in psychology. 

Following the collapse of Flybe in March of this year, Owen continued to publish articles and work with – amongst others – the UK RAF Cadets and the European Aviation Wellbeing Committee. He has recently been appointed Senior Lecturer in Aviation at Solent University in Southampton, charged with the task of building the new Warsash Aviation Academy. 

Human Factors Implications in the ‘Post-Covid’ World

Pilots are no more immune than anyone else to the psychologically damaging impact of stress and anxiety associated with the global coronavirus pandemic; be that from the disruption to the norms of social engagement to outright fear of the disease itself. In addition, pilots carry the burden of the specific impact on the aviation industry resulting from the unprecedented grounding of aircraft and likely global economic slowdown; all this whilst (lest we forget) flying aircraft containing hundreds of people at high speed miles up in the air. 

Understanding precisely how stress can impact pilot performance is key to enabling pilots to managing that stress and, in particular, their emotional reactions. This is necessary, but insufficient; a holistic approach is required which includes those in management and regulation, both at an organisational level and at the level of the individual. 

The aim of this presentation is to increase the understanding of the potentially damaging impact of mis-managed emotional reactions on performance and to show how expanding established training concepts beyond the flightdeck can help to build an inclusive and compassionate approach to ensuring that aviation, as an industry, not only returns to normal, but emerges from the crisis stronger, more resilient, and safer.