Issue Number 243
September 1999
A Monthly Safety Bulletin from The Office of the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System
P.O. Box 189, Moffett Field, CA 94035-0189

Taking a Stand For Safety

Some of the most difficult judgment calls in aviation occur on the ground, before a flight. Pressured by schedule, passengers, and other considerations, pilots may be tempted to suspend the good judgment they have gained from experience and training to undertake questionable or unsafe flights. We hear from several pilots who explain to ASRS why they regretted not taking a stand for safety.

From a new-hire corporate First Officer:

Canyon Calisthenics

The next incident, recounted by the pilot of a high-performance single-engine aircraft, made white-knuckle flyers out of several veteran pilots. It occurred just after a routine passenger pick-up at an airport in the West whose elevation is almost 4,000 feet AGL.

It’s possible that the open aircraft door and resultant drag worsened the downdraft situation. Our reporter might have prevented the passenger panic and subsequent baggage barrage by briefing on the local flight conditions prior to departure.

Flying Outside the BookAnd from a pilot who was persuaded by a company salesman to bend weight-and-balance rules to sew up a sale:

Lessons in Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness–or "SA" as human factors specialists like to call it–is a term referring to pilots’ ability to "keep the big picture" in flight operations. This includes awareness of the aircraft’s location and attitude, its proximity to physical hazards and obstructions, weather and environmental factors, engine and systems status, task priority within the cockpit, and many other factors.

Loss of situational awareness is often associated with poor weather, aircraft emergencies and other extreme situations. But more insidiously, loss of situational awareness also occurs in good visual conditions during routine operations. An air carrier Captain describes a case in point:

We trust this incident taught the First Officer the importance of communicating clearly with other crew when he does not have other traffic and the runway in sight.

The Importance of Homework

Lack of preparation for flight into marginal conditions can contribute to a loss of situational awareness that in turn can build to a near-catastrophe. The pilot of a private jet who was the victim of a critical instrument failure, explains.

"This is the sort of English up with which I will not put" Attributed to Sir William ChurchillRecently ASRS received a refreshing international flight operations report in which an ATC instruction was rendered in plain English, understood by the U.S. crew, and complied with promptly. No apparent problem, one would think–but read on.

In this judgment dance between the pilot and controller, we still don’t know who was leading. What’s certain is that "land after" is not recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as accepted ATC terminology.

ASRS Recently Issued Alerts On...
MD-80 autospoiler malfunction
A camcorder battery fire in an overhead cabin bin
B737-800 leading edge devices malfunction
Unshielded transponder testing at an airport repair facility
Alleged navigation interference by a passenger DVD player
July 1999 Report Intake
 Air Carrier/Air Taxi Pilots
 General Aviation Pilots