Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Flight Briefings

Briefings help pilots review and comment operational procedures and factors, that will be performed in the flight, and exterior factors that influence and may affect different phases of the flight. That way the pilot or flight crew is more aware of the flight conditions, so that he or she can make a decision of what to do in case of an abnormal or emergency situation. Briefings are done in sports, races, in the military, etc. The team basically discusses and reviews the overall outlook of what will be done. In aviation, it improves safety by enhancing situational awareness.

If you want to read more about briefings and other topics visit smartcockpit.com/flightops.

Airbus has published many articles and notes about operational and human factors. The one I read about flight crew briefings is this note.

I recently developed a briefing checklist for my future flights. I checked some briefing checklists and excerpts from Flight Crew Training Manuals and Operating Manuals to get an idea of the sequence a briefing checklist should have. I made a 'beta' briefing checklist and then I changed the sequence of the items giving it a more efficient and inteligent arrangement of the items. The weather should be discussed at first, then the terrain, the charts and resources that will be used in the flight deck, the airplane configuration, speeds and fuel, what to do 'in case of', operational considerations and questions and/or comments. The sequence is arranged so that the first items are taken into consideration in the following items. For example: You can't determine the departure runway if you don't know the wind direction. The external factors (weather/terrain) are taken into consideration for the internal actions.

I divided the checklist into 3 parts: Departure Briefing, Cruise Briefing and Arrival Briefing.

I would do the departure briefing after starting up the engine, copying the ATIS and receiving the ATC clearance. After taxi and the runup checklist, I would repeat the takeoff and departure procedure as instructed by ATC.
When flying at the cruise altitude, I would perform the cruise briefing. 10 minutes before the top of descent, the arrival briefing. I would plan the top of descent at a comfortable and flexible point so that I level off at the published altitude of the Initial Approach Fix with a constant descent and so that if I get radar vectors and altitude instructions, I wouldn't get to the approach too high. That way I can perform my arrival briefing with time and not in a hurry or already in the descent.

An example of a departure briefing in an IFR flight with a Piper Warrior would be as follows:

"The prevailing conditions are IMC. The ATIS reported no thunderstorms nor windshear in the area, light rain so there could be some runway contamination; the temperature is 15 Celsius, dewpoint 13; altimeter 29.97; visibility 2.5 miles, overcast at 800 feet, broken at 2000 feet and the wind is 290 at 6.
Most of the elevetad terrain is at the east with the highest obstruction at 5200 feet. The MSA for our departure sector is 4400 feet and the airport elevation is 427 feet.
It will be a departure from runway 28L. Radar vectors to the airway with an initial heading of 360, climbing to 2000ft. Mission Bay VOR has been entered in the NAV2 and identified, NAV1 set with Homeland VOR and NAV1 standby with the ILS28R in case we must return to land.
Seeing the airport diagram, we will taxi from 'here' via Golf and Hotel to runway 28L. There's a hotspot at the crossing point of Golf and Hotel.
It will be a normal takeoff; my controls and communications.
Flaps 0 takeoff, rotate at 60 knots, Vx 63, Vy 79 and cruise climb 87. We have 40 gallons of fuel and the takeoff weight is 2200 pounds.
In case of an abnormality or engine roughness on takeoff roll, I'll abort the takeoff. In case of an engine failure below 1000 feet, secure the airplane and land at the most suitable area. Above 1000 feet, glide speed to the most suitable area, perform engine failure checklist and in case the engine doesn't start, declare emergency. In case of an electrical and/or communicacionts failure, we will proceed as cleared and we will continue the route.
The NOTAMs at Montgomery: Taxiway C is closed. Sterile flight deck below 3000 feet.
Questions or comments?"

When completing the before takeoff checklist I would repeat and confirm the takeoff and departure procedures:

"Flaps 0, trim set, rotate at 60 knots, maintain 63, then 79 Vy crossing 500 feet. Climb to 2000 feet and fly heading 360"

Some may think briefings for small aircraft flights are not that important nor necessary. I developed this briefing checklist to get accustomed with airline procedures and operations. Also, because the commercial aviation safety level is greater than the general aviation one. I'd use airline operating methods and habits to enhance the safety of my flights. This may give a general aviation pilot good confidence and safety for any flight.

The briefings may give the pilot more workload, but it is a matter of practice, flight deck resource management and discipline that will enable the pilot to effectively execute all the procedures and tasks of a flight.

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