Monitor Smart, Part 2: The Monitoring “Must Do” List

In the last post, we promised to provide a knowledge-based “do-list” of what to monitor, by phase of flight, every time you fly. Being able to adopt these guidelines, however, presupposes that you have already bought-in to the required “systems knowledge” that allows knowledge-based monitoring to be successful (if you have not, you can review our previous posts on monitoring—there have been many—or review chapter 8 of Automation Airmanship). You wouldn’t, of course, expect to get any use out of a complex system without a foundational knowledge of the system, would you? The same concept applies to your knowledge of the “wetware”—you—something that we maintain is critical in successfully adopting the 9 principles of Automation Airmanship.

We know that it’s not only impractical but also physically impossible to sustain the same level of vigilance over the vast amount of information that must be monitored during every flight leg. We accept that it’s not only normal but expected that vigilance varies over the course of a flight; so we have adopted the point of view that organizing a crew’s monitoring tasks by phase of flight is one very effective way to keep track of what should be monitored, and how intensely it should be monitored. What is on this list are those things that, if neglected for reasons of distraction, fatigue, or just poor flight discipline, could rapidly lead to a violation of an ATC clearance, a loss of separation between aircraft, or in the worst case, a catastrophic departure from controlled flight that might require an act of heroic airmanship to recover from.

We’ve been advocating this across the industry for several years, and find that this model is effective for both experienced crews and those new to the automated flight deck. Here it is, in the form of a simple table:

Monitoring “Must-Do” Checklist, by Phase of Flight

Pre takeoff and Taxi

  • Communications
  • Aircraft Position and Speed
  • Configuration Checks

Takeoff and Departure

  • Normal Takeoff Pitch &Thrust
  • Rate of Climb
  • Lateral and Vertical Navigation

Level-Off and Cruise

  • Normal Cruise Pitch & Thrust
  • Lateral Navigation
  • Communications

Descent and Arrival

  • Normal Descent Pitch and Thrust
  • Speed and Altitude (including Vertical Navigation Constraints)
  • Lateral Navigation

Landing & Go-Around

  • Normal Approach/Landing/Go-around Pitch and Thrust
  • Configuration Checks
  • Target Speeds and Altitudes (consistent with Stabilized Approach criteria)
  • Approach Path guidance (Azimuth/Course & Glide Path)
  • Communications

Is there more to be monitored during each phase of flight? Indeed: hundreds, if not thousands of additional details are expected to be monitored across every phase of flight, but these are the critical parameters that factor most on the integrity of the aircraft’s flight path or an aircraft’s position during ground operations. In other words: when the workload spikes on the flight deck for any reason, the pilot flying should focus his or her “beam of attention” or “spotlight” on these few items first.

In his book, “Fly By Wire” author William Langewiesche describes how the crew of USAIR 1549 “Ruthlessly shed distraction” in handling a power-off descent into the Hudson River in 2009 after a dual engine failure. Their expert airmanship is an excellent example of how the human attention system is wired to respond with reliability and elegance in times of great need. The key to maintaining the readiness of this crucial and so-far irreplaceable flight deck system is in understanding its simplicity and availability—through every phase of flight. After that, it’s as simple as directing it to the most critical information there is: the state of the aircraft’s flight path through the environment.

Think about it.

Until our next report, fly safe, and always, fly first.

Leave a Comment