Helping Managers Make Better Decisions

Dr. Tanja Becker, an entrepreneur and airline pilot, applies aviation methods to business.

As a pilot, Tanja Becker is trained to master crises. As a coach, she passes on this knowledge to managers. Photo: Andreas Laible

Dr. Becker, you are a long-range pilot and senior first officer on Airbus A340 jets, you’ve co-founded a business in Hamburg, and you have a four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. Has the coronavirus pandemic hit you in three different ways—as an employee, a business owner, and a mother?

Dr. Tanja Becker: Indeed it has. I’ve had to face three different difficulties right from the start. For one thing, of course, there’s looking after my children twenty-four hours a day. Then there’s the sobering image of planes parked at so many airports in Germany alone. And finally, there’s the vulnerability of a start-up that had begun to show very positive incoming orders and now has to deal with new challenges resulting from the virus.

The pandemic is a global crisis. A crisis by definition is the most extreme point of a very dangerous situation. But it can also be the turning point—and a chance to find solutions. If the situation cannot be dealt with, the crisis can turn into a catastrophe. An example in aviation would be if a plane’s engines fail and it starts going down over a densely populated area. How are pilots trained to prevent that type of outcome?

Becker: Training is crucial for handling that type of predicament. It prepares us in targeted ways for concrete situations, but it also helps us internalize approaches and procedures. You might have heard of the “aviate, navigate, communicate” principle, for example. In simple terms, the first thing to do is to keep the plane in the air. Then you want to work on its location and direction. Only then do we communicate with flight safety personnel or our colleagues in the cabin. Training not only polishes your skills but also raises your level of experience. This helps build up a pilot’s ability to take action and make decisions intuitively in actual practice. That in turn frees up capacities to deal with additional problems. To put it simply: faced with an emergency situation, I as a pilot should have sufficient reserves to concentrate on the essentials and not become hectic in the process.

Read the full interview here.