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Johan Berg: The Humbling Experience of a Displacement

Aviation is probably facing its biggest challenge since it was invented a little over 100 years ago. As a direct consequence of the ongoing pandemic, I was, together with more than half of the captains in the company, displaced back to First Officer in October 2020. This came as no surprise to me as my company was flying at less than 50% of the capacity and majorly overstaffed.

Being displaced is a very humbling and sobering experience. Taking a 45% pay-cut requires some resilience. On a positive note, it also works as a bit of a reunion as you get to fly with more senior colleagues again you didn’t expect to work with when you went to upgrade training. When you move on to be a captain you basically cut yourself loose from gaining experience from other captains on how they conduct the daily work, adopt CRM, distribute work and have their own way of managing the crew, and be a leader. You are being forced to set your own standards, facilitate the daily work, and all of a sudden, all eyes are on you when something out of the ordinary unfolds.

When I switched seat back in October, I immediately started observing and making mental notes on how other captains worked and managed their daily tasks. After a couple of trips, I realized this was a bit of a blessing as I had picked up several good habits and techniques from other senior colleagues that I never paid attention to when I was a new hire First Officer. Important to mention, there is no training, no process, no briefing or SOP for how to act when you move in the “wrong” direction in the system. It can be confusing to find the right balance in the system when this happens.

I also got the bonus opportunity to fly with numerous check airman again on the line, 8 of them to be specific. I asked each and every one of them the same thing at the start of every trip. Teach me something I don’t know! And they all took me up on the challenge and did. (Thank you!)

A few weeks ago, I was given the news that I will return as a Captain again as of February and a few days ago I did my first flight again in the left seat after over 4 months. A little bit overwhelmed I found myself in the middle of the worst snowstorm of the season getting ready to sign the logbook again accepting the airplane. However, I also know I have gained more experience and collected some new habits to apply to my daily tasks and challenges. I felt stronger, motivated, more humble, and somehow also more resilient to the challenging task than ever before. Surrounded by a fantastic crew, a challenging event turned into nothing but a positive experience and the day passed by surprisingly easy.

I’ve always been curious and strived to gain more experience and additional knowledge. I slowed down, reflected and tried to absorb, and simply looked at my surroundings with a different mindset. I have been furloughed multiple times in the past as direct consequences of the terror attacks on Sep 11, 2001, the financial crisis 2008, and the ash cloud over Europe 2010. It was rough but I somehow managed to land on my feet every time. After the last furlough, I knew this most likely wasn’t the last crisis should I opt to stay in the aviation business. (Although I didn’t anticipate a global pandemic to be the cause of the next crisis).

There will always be ups and downs, especially if you choose a career in aviation. It’s easy to get carried away and caught up in negative patterns when powering through a crisis. Your quality of life may get swept away by all changes (worse schedules, pay-cuts, forced to other bases etc.). Those who manage to power through teh changes will most likely find themselves stronger and more resilient when the light in the tunnel appears again. I managed to turn a potentially very negative experience into something positive that ultimately made me stronger and more resilient in my daily job.

“Never waste a good crisis!” – Winston Churchill

Johan Berg, Professional Aviator,
sentimental with my pen

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