Checklists

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Let me state clearly, right from the start: I personally DO NOT believe written Checklists have an appropriate place in most GA airframes, such as we write about and discuss here -with very few exceptions.

Let me explain my thinking a little: Where I operate (Papua, Indonesia currently) as much as in other locales, I daily see pilots in airframes like Pilatus Porter, Cessna, Caravan, PAC750, Kodiak and Twin Otter operating these airframes as if they are in Airbus A380's, on International operations. They are purely and simply a product of their training environment and ethos. I blame this ethos on the (themselves) under-trained, woefully inexperienced instructors and (probably) under-resourced training departments who's inevitable response to an issue, perceived or real, will always be "put it on a checklist". That's how we wind-up with these grotesquely bloated checklists that entirely miss the point, sending the crew member(s) off on a wild goose chase, all over the cockpit in all phases of flight, distracting[notes 1] them from their Primary task -Fly the fucking Aircraft you are in!!! All the airframes mentioned so-far (with the exception of the A380, of course) were designed and built as Single Pilot airframes. Here, most if not all are at least partially operated in a multi-crew environment -which by their very design/build ethos, do not lend themselves readily to multi-crew practice. That said, that does not detract from the benefit of training in these aircraft -as long as the training is appropriate to the expectation of the trainee eventually making it to the Left seat, and eventually being sufficiently knowledgable, competent and confident to operate the aircraft Single Pilot. Any less is doing a massive disservice to the trainee -and creating a generation of "pilots" that cannot function at all, without someone else sitting beside them, breast-feeding them through every stage of flight. Now imagine a cockpit occupied by Two similarly 'trained' pilots...

Written checklists are appropiate in multi-crew airliners, where drills are scannned first by heart, then vital actions confirmed by checklist read by the non-flying pilot. But in single pilot aircraft, using written checklists as a crutch to memory is contrary to the object of staying ahead of the aircraft. One rarely sees the pilots of a passenger jet conducting a full walk-around pre-flight inspection with a checklist book in hand and torch in the other. Blind reliance on written checklists in light single pilot airframes fosters the insidious combination of false sense of security in one's ability, in that the checklist will cover everything; Laziness in that one cannot be bothered to study the drills and finally, the uncomfortable awareness that without the crutch of a written checklist, one really cannot cope with normal flying procedures. In all the above observations I am discussing the use of written checklists for small airframes that are designed and intended for single-pilot operation.
—Centaurus, PPRuNe, Thread.


Later on, we'll analyse a C208 checklist in current use... far from the worst, but an illustration of what I discuss.

Checklists were never intended to be "To-Do" Lists. They are an aide memoire -not a shopping list. Sadly, all too often they are perceived and used as both a catch-all and a to-do list. The checklists in common use are far from the original, noble intent, rather having become a crutch upon which the lazy and/or incompetent are utterly reliant. They are time-wasters (usually with the engine turning & burning), a distraction at critical phases of flight -how much time do you want to be head-down in the cockpit on a typically 20-30min flight, in busy airspace?- and a frustration for other airport/strip users who get to watch you sit at a taxiway hold-point or runway threshold, anally going through however many pages of irrelevant, unhelpful nonsense have been foisted on you by those too lazy to train you adequately.

Basic Airmanship dictates there must be a simpler, better way. There is.

A comprehensive, properly conducted Flow Check[1] will consider and confirm every circuit-breaker, switch, control and valve in your cockpit -and take a mere fraction of the time necessary to conduct even one section of a written checklist. In the C208 Caravan I currently fly, mine starts in the R Overhead, flows from there to the Centre Console, L across the panel and circuit-breaker panels to the switches. And back again. I conduct the full Flow like that 3-4 times before every takeoff -and I'll usually be airborne 5-10min before the crew using a written checklist is.

Written checklists may be an invaluable tool in the early hours of ab initio training -but that is also the very place where a strong habit of conducting a cockpit Flow Check needs to be established. Any student that continues to need reference to a written checklist-crutch may need to re-examine their commitment to the task in-hand. Likewise, a properly constructed written checklist will likely be a useful tool in any new airframe type transition training -again, until a comprehensive, appropriate Flow Check habit is engrained. Students and trainees need to know that at some point, they will be expected to demonstrate all Normal procedure checks either from memory or a properly conducted Flow Check. Training them in the mind-set that a written challenge/response checklist is expected and must be used in all phases of flight is damaging -not to mention creating otherwise unnecessary pressures and distractions[notes 2].

Emergency response and Abnormal Operation written checklists are essential -to support and confirm the Immediate Action Memory Items[notes 3] that every candidate must be competent in. They will also offer additional resources, options and checks that will need to be performed -where time and opportunity permit. These will usually be supplied by the aircraft manufacturer -and must be confirmed present in your cockpit daily.
DH82.com

Notes

  1. There is one company here that operates predominantly multi-crew in essentially single-pilot airframes. It is frustratingly common to hear an "any traffic please advise" call, or for them to request traffic information from very busy ATC units, often at incredibly bad (busy) times. On the face of it: not bad airmanship. The reality however is, even with two crew on-channel, presumably listening to the 20-30 position and traffic reports over the preceding minutes, neither of them are able to comprehend and build a mental picture of where they are in relation to traffic. They're so engrossed in their challenge/response checklists that they both forget to Listen. Then they simply reach the point on their ridiculously bloated checklist that mandates the unnecessary "any traffic please advise" call -so that's what they do, which to me, demonstrates an egregious lack of airmanship, duplicated in the one cockpit.
  2. Frequently the same Company crews will taxi to the DEP THR of a mountain RWY -and sit there for 5min running the last 15 pages of their pre-departure checklist, despite traffic behind for DEP or on APP for the same RWY. If you've passed a RWY Hold-Line or taxied to a THR for DEP then be ready to depart as soon as you're lined-up. It is NOT the place to be running a bloated checklist when there is a queue of traffic waiting to use the same RWY.
  3. I have recently had three (at seperate times) newly minted "Captains" in my cockpit, not one of whom could competently conduct an External Pre-flight inspection, identify major airframe and/or engine components, state Emergency Memory Items, tell me where wake-turbulence from a passing B737 (on the RWY) would commence or end, or formulate any sort of power-loss forced-landing plan, beyond turning back to the departure airport. Quite an ask, given that was usually 90NM+ behind us, by the time I asked the question. Each of those "captains" claimed in excess of 1000hrs in the aircraft type being flown. Given that I generally don't see these candidates at all until very late in their training, it strikes me that the training "system" is massively at-fault. Similarly, every one of them was incapable of functioning at all without reference to the bloated challenge/response checklist.

References

  1. The very well-respected John Deakin of AvWeb fame, author of the Pelican's Perch series of articles, has written two (at the time, quite controversial) articles, Throw Away That Stupid Checklist! and Checklists Redux that are probably amongst the most compelling articles I have ever read on aviation practice. I encourage you to read them both in their entirety.