This article was originally published in Flight Comment No. 3 1995.
As we battle our way through another active posting season (APS), age-old fears arise wondering how the squadron is going to survive with the loss of so many key players. Obviously, most of the departing members will carry a wealth of corporate knowledge out with them. Incoming folks will generally lack that knowledge.
Air Command is working with fewer people and reduced experience levels at squadrons. If you complain about one unit’s overall experience, you will find other units that are even worse off. The solution to this problem lays somewhere in the hallowed halls of higher headquarters. The more immediate concern is how to deal with the incoming personnel this year.
First-tour, junior personnel do not pose much difficulty. Proven training programs have been established and as long as appropriate training resources are also available, junior crewmembers will progress well.
Experienced arrivals, especially those with little or no time on the gaining unit’s aircraft, can create a problem. This is when “halo effect” can rear its ugly head.
Halo effect is described as the tendency to attribute unwarranted skill or expertise based on unrelated or faded experience. As a result of halo effect, one finds tried and true training programs being improperly modified to accommodate the experienced arrivals. Junior training officers just learning how to teach the basic syllabus do not normally have the background to make significant syllabus changes or teach unusual students. “Excessive professional courtesy” between the junior instructor and experienced student can lead to an unsafe cockpit environment. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with preserving valuable training resources, the unit has to ensure the syllabus modification decisions are being made by experienced training/standards staff.
One of the deadliest combinations that can appear during APS is a supervisor without any experience on the squadron’s role or its equipment. A few years ago, a squadron of 42 aircrew had its only 3 senior officers with no experience on the airplane. Just how much credibility do you think the senior officers as first officers had making operational policy for aircraft commanders? Actually with the right attitudes and good advice it did not turn out too badly.
When simultaneously learning new supervisory duties and a new airplane, one of the two will suffer. In trying to quickly develop experience and upgrade to aircraft crew commander status, senior officers may end up commandeering trips that would normally have been used to train the junior aircrew. The unit must ensure appropriate priorities are established and maintained.
A possible solution is to use subordinates as acting section heads while the incoming supervisor learns his new equipment. Experienced junior officers can make very capable supervisors. The knowledge gained will also be very valuable to the future senior officers.
The stressors of the active posting season normally wear off within the first six months. During this initial period, proper leadership is imperative to ensure that training and other duties are balanced safely and effectively.