While most commercial pilots complete their careers without having to handle a major emergency, they are all required to demonstrate recovery procedures on a flight simulator at regular intervals. With some of the more extreme scenarios, this is the only way to practice these techniques safely.

In 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s Airbus jet had a sudden encounter with a flock of geese. Both engines failed. He was left with only one option – to ditch in New York’s Hudson River. The story was captured on Twitter and rapidly “went viral”.

In a subsequent interview, Captain Sullenberger explained, “For 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. On January 15 the balance was sufficient to make a very large withdrawal.”

The video reveals the consummate professionalism of Captain Chesley Sullenberger of US Airways when just after take-off, both engines on his Airbus jet fail. The pilot’s mantra is “Aviate (i.e. fly the aeroplane), Navigate & Communicate” in that order of priority. In an emergency, there is no time to elaborate. Bear that in mind when listening to the exchanges between the pilot and the air traffic controller. All 155 on board survived.

Flight simulators also reveal areas where there may be scope for improvement, either in terms of the skill or judgement of the crew, or the systems and procedures that they use. These can be just as safety-critical but are usually less news-worthy. An important part of this culture is to shift emphasis away from blame to one where pilots are encouraged to notify the authorities in strict confidence when an incident has taken place with the safety implications. For airlines and manufacturers, this information is priceless. Ignoring incidents ensures accidents.

Shouldn’t this (and countless other examples) cause the business community to stop and think?

  • What if the accelerated experiential learning used in aviation was available for decision-makers in business?
  • What if you could run a virtual business in a realistic, competitive, simulated environment? With so few businesses start-ups surviving five years, the potential for improvement is massive.
  • What if - in addition to improved business survival rates - this also led to higher performance and productivity?
  • Why can’t unexpected events in business be handled with the same calm professionalism that we see on a flight deck?

The business equivalent to an encounter with a flock of geese could be anything from an unexpected market downturn to a sudden exodus of customers after exaggerated press reports of disgruntled customers. By how much would the chances of survival for a business improve if those involved had already practised ways of handling such events in a simulation?