Aircraft checklists and procedures are there to keep everyone safe. It’s crucial that pilots learn how to use these effectively to avoid disaster in the case of an emergency.
Aircraft checklists and procedures are there for a reason- to keep pilots and passengers safe. Too many pilots don’t take the time to learn their checklists and memorize them. This can lead to disaster in the event of an emergency. In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of the proper use of checklists and procedures. We will also look at how pilots can use checklists safely and effectively during flight.
One of the most important aspects of flying is using checklists and procedures correctly. Many pilots don’t take the time to learn their checklists thoroughly, which can lead to disaster in the event of an emergency. In order to use checklists safely and effectively during a flight, it is important for pilots to understand what each item on the checklist means and how it should be executed as part of aircraft systems. For example, the final approach checklist is a critical safety check that should never be skipped.
It is important for pilots to understand when it is appropriate to use a checklist. Checklists should never be used as a recipe or ‘to-do’ list. Instead, they should be used to close off safety-critical items, and required by standard operating procedures for certain safety-critical phases of flight, for example;
- Before-start aircraft checklist
- Taxi checklist
- Pre-takeoff checklist
- Approach checklist
- Landing checklist
In other words, checklists should only be used when absolutely necessary and in accordance with operating manuals or procedures. This way, pilots can focus on their flying and maintain situational awareness and recall during flight, avoiding using distracting checklists unnecessarily, but ensuring they use a checklist for a safety critical phase of flight and not miss anything.
Why aircraft checklists shouldn’t be used as To-Do Lists
Checklists should not be used as a to-do list. Good airmanship dictates pilots use their workflows or memory items (also called procedures) to set the aircraft, the EFB and cockpit up in the correct configuration, and then checklists are used to close off a workflow or procedure conducted from memory. For example, when entering the aircraft, you complete your ‘nesting procedure’ – called the pre-flight flight deck preparation or cockpit setup.
You often simply move through the flight deck in a methodical matter, the same way each time, configuring each switch selection. By repeating it the same way each time, you embed the procedure and are less likely to make an error.
Once you have completed the flight deck prep, you go through the before-start checklist using your Handbook or Cards to ensure you haven’t missed anything critical in the workflow. For example, incorrectly setting the aircraft pressurization system (Auto Vs Manual) has resulted in numerous large transport aircraft losses due to hypoxia as pilots have failed to properly conduct normal procedures and checklists after maintenance has changed the switch from Auto to Manual or Open during their ground maintenance runs.
Not all checklists can be run through with reference to a handbook however, especially during single pilot IFR operations. For example, it would be a bad idea in this situation to pull out a checklist and take your focus away from hand flying an ILS approach to read through the final approach checklist – the correct technique is to conduct the final approach from memory.
Thankfully, the final approach checklist is usually fairly straightforward for most aircraft;
- In General Aviation, I was taught ‘PUFC’ Checks: Propeller (full fine), Undercarriage: (down 3 greens), Flaps: (as required), Cowl flaps: (open).
- In the military, I was taught ‘Gear: (down 3 greens), Flaps: (as required), runway: (clear/occupied), clearance to: (land/touch and go/overshoot).
Focusing on Individual aircraft checklist items
It is important to remember that when you are doing these checklists, to not just pay lip service to the checks – that is, you should take time to focus on each individual item in the checklist and pay attention to that item and what is required. It can be very easy to accidentally say what you want to see or what you think you see. One way to combat this is to use the Limitation-Selection-Indication flow. For example, during Landing gear down would go;
- Limitation: Check speed below gear speed (and verbalise if SOP)
- Selection/Operation: Move landing gear handle to ‘DOWN’ (and verbalise if SOP)
- Indication: Check to see 3 green lights illuminated (and verbalise if SOP – often other pilot must call this too)
However, as mentioned, the checklist is not a to-do list, so you should not rely on manually reading a checklist to set the aircraft up in the landing configuration.
The landing checklist in the C-130
When flying the C130, we used a three crewmember procedure to configure the aircraft for landing called the landing checklist which was required to be recalled from memory;
- Pilot flying (PF): “Landing checklist”
- Pilot monitoring (PM): Checks speed below 220 knots “Flaps”
- PF: Checks speed is below limitation speed and calls “Speed below 183 knots, flap 50” or “Speed below 220 knots, flaps on speed”
- PM: Checks speed is below limitation speed, selects flap as required and calls “Travels”
- PM: Checks flap indicator is at 50% and called “Flap 50”
- PF: Continues to decelerate the aircraft to 150 knots flight
- PM: Waits for speed to slow below gear limiting speed of 168 knots and calls “Gear”
- PF: Checks speed below 168 knots and calls “Speed below 168 knots, gear down”
- PM: checks speed below 168 knots, selects gear down and calls “Gear travels”
- PM: upon seeing three greens calls “Down Three Greens”
- PF: upon seeing three greens calls “Down Three Greens”
- PM: “Landing checks complete, Pilot / Copilot (as required)”
- Loadmaster (LDM): Checks gear and flap have moved and no abnormal indications from cargo bay “Loadmaster”
Clearly, you can see this checklist doesn’t work if we are all reading from a card trying to figure out what to do and say, and when. It must be a practiced procedure, and you must have situational awareness to do it.
An exceptional item of checklists are BOLDFACE, and we will cover this in a separate article. BOLDFACE is an emergency checklist, and emergency procedures you must have memorised and be able to complete under duress as initial actions to safely handle emergencies or aircraft accidents such as:
- Smoke and fumes events
- Bird strikes or cracked canopies
- Engine failures
- Hung up weapons or paratroopers
- Pressurisation loss
Final Words on Aircraft checklists
Flying an aircraft safely is a complex task that requires split-second decision-making. In order to make sure that everyone onboard stays safe, it is essential that a flying pilot uses checklists and procedures correctly. With proper understanding and execution of checklists, pilots can ensure flight safety and an enjoyable trip for all passengers.
For more information on the importance of aircraft checklists, you can read about the King Air accident on the ATSB website HERE and how it could have been avoided with correct completion of checklists.