It's not what you plan to do, it's how you plan to do it!

At AirlinePrep our team include a variety of airline pilots including Training First Officers and Captains. What we frequently witness during training events is our clients talking about what they are going to do, but not necessarily how they are going to do it.

The same theme continues in the flight deck environment during line flying. We recently read a very good article about effective briefing in an aeronautical journal. What the article identified is that briefs should be interactive and identify the threats and errors as a priority. Plans should then be made and contingencies assessed. What the article didn't address though was the 'how'.

The 'how' we do things in flying is what allows both pilots to understand what the state the aircraft will be during a given phase of flight and knowing the 'how' allows pilot monitoring to effectively question the pilot flying when the aircraft is not being flown according to the plan.
Pilots acting as pilot flying (PF) can demonstrate their high standards and knowledge by explaining to their pilot monitoring (PM) how they will handle certain situations.

Typically at the top of climb pilot flying would discuss what they will do in the event of an engine failure in the cruise. For example, they might say that they will descend the aircraft down to engine out cruise altitude at a certain speed ensuring that they do not descend below MSA. That's excellent and proves they are considering contingencies and what if scenarios, but one step further is to say ‘how’ they will handle this scenario in the unlikely event it will happen. For example “I will disconnect the auto throttle, apply maximum continuous thrust, correct the yaw and re-engage the autopilot if it disconnects. I will then set drift down altitude on the MCP followed by drift down speed and then engage the level change mode”. By stating those actions, both Pilots are now prepared for what they will do should an engine fail in the cruise.

We can’t brief our actions for every eventuality, but we can cover certain scenarios such that should they occur and being prepared will help deal with any startle factor.

There are correct ways of flying the aircraft in normal and non normal situations and these are specified in the operations and flight crew training manuals. Whilst it can be assumed in the majority of scenarios that both pilots are trained to standard, there are some situations whereby it might be worth briefly discussing the 'how'.

Some examples might be:

Rejected take-off: How will the manoeuvre be carried out? How will you handle the aircraft, ATC and passengers after the reject? 

Take-off in a strong crosswind: How will Pilot flying achieve this and what cross wind take-off technique will they use? Is the technique they plan to use correct?

Departure: Will PF make use of the autopilot or manually fly?

Climbing into a busy TMA: What modes will PF use to limit rate of climb and avoid TCAS conflicts?

Cruise: What will both pilot actions be in the event of a depressurisation or engine failure? This is an item we would recommend discussing on every flight cruising above 10000ft.

Descent: How will MSA be monitored?

Non-precision approach: What modes will be used and when will the aircraft be configured for a stabilised approach?

Go-around: How will it be flown and what is the plan after the go-around? How will you set up for another approach or how will you divert? Who will fly the second approach?

The list above is not exhaustive, but once the threats have been identified, don't just say what you plan to do, give consideration to 'how' you will do it. Remember flexibility is key when flying an aircraft and the threats will change, so periodic reviews throughout the flight about new threats and how you will mitigate against them will keep both pilots in the communication loop and allow for effective monitoring and questioning.

The 'how' also applies to airline interviews and assessments. You might convince yourself that you will participate in the group exercise and provide your opinions, but more importantly, the assessors will be assessing 'how' you do that. Give consideration to how you plan to handle the interview and group exercises.
If you would like to know more about how we can support and help you with your Airline or Cadet Pilot interview, then please feel free to contact us.