Setting Monitoring Targets: Aim Small

I recently returned from giving a talk to the Southern California Aviation Association, one of many business aviation groups that are constantly promoting safe practices across the profession. As part of their Safety Stand-down for 2014, I was privileged to be able to address their members on the subject of Monitoring—the 5th Principle of Automation Airmanship. During the course of the day, I was able to run the subject of this posting by about 75 of this year’s attendees, just to see what some of my peers might think about it. What I thought might be a little bit “out there” was in fact viewed as not just worthwhile, but worthy of adoption with very little debate.

There has been much focus on the subject of monitoring over the past 18 months—much of that as a result of some high-profile accidents that have all involved a breakdown in monitoring as a causal factor. Tied to these occurrences, without exception in the case of landing accidents, are violations of company stabilized approach criteria (whether they are noticed by the accident crews or not). As a result, I want to introduce an idea that has been taking shape not only in my mind when I consider the concept of “effective monitoring,” but also in what I do when I’m out flying myself. I’ve found that making one simple change to how I focus myself and my fellow crewmembers just prior to approach is producing excellent results. This technique smoothly blends two of the 9 principles—Briefing and Debriefing (the 2nd Principle of Automation Airmanship) with Monitoring (the 5th Principle).

Most flying organizations have a clear policy on what a “standard” approach briefing consists of, who is responsible for giving the briefing, and at what point in the flight it is completed. Likewise, most flight departments are crystal clear about their policy on stabilized approaches (parameters vary slightly between companies, but they are roughly the same). By including a complete description of the stabilized approach criteria in the approach briefing—to include the requirements of a go-around if we become unstable—I focus not just myself but my crew on those critical targets just prior to one of the most challenging phases of flight. At first, I thought this might be a kind of “overkill” that was not only unnecessary, but laughable if said out loud during a briefing. Then I thought of all of those other things that are required in the standard briefing, and suddenly it occurred to me that I would permanently add this to my approach and landing preparations for every leg, no matter how repetitive it might seem. Surely, my crew must know as well as I do the final approach course for the ILS that we so often fly when landing at our home field, yet we don’t view that as extraneous to a good briefing and we don’t argue its value as a “required” briefing item. Just as with other “routine” bits of information that we brief prior to every approach and landing, it focuses our spotlights for a few short moments on this piece of critical information, priming us to recognize any change or deviation.

Why would neglecting the few key components of the stabilized approach parameters during the briefing seem superfluous?

I still cannot find a reason why it would. When we talk about a good briefing in Automation Airmanship, we challenge that every brief given be one that makes it easier for one’s self and one’s fellow crewmembers to do their job; with more focus, more clarity, and better results. I think adding this short and focused piece to the briefing will not only help us all “aim smaller” on approach, but will contribute to reducing the number of unstable approaches—world-wide—significantly.

Give it a try.

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

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