Procedures and Checklist Usage

This week I had lunch with a frustrated private pilot, who is trying to earn her instrument ticket. She had a difficult last flight, and frustration and doubt were apparent. Our conversation went something like this…

Karlene: “What happened on your last flight?”

Student: “I missed a couple things on my checklist, I’m having a hard time remembering everything that needs to be done, and everything happens so fast that I don’t have time to get it all done.”

Karlene: “How did you miss a couple things on your checklist? Didn’t you read the checklist to confirm they’d been accomplished?”

Student: “I read through it kind of fast because there is a lot on it, and so much to do.”

Karlene: “Wait. Do you use the checklist to do the items, or to check that they’ve been done?”

Student: “What do mean?”

Karlene: “Is this a ‘check’ list or a ‘do’ list?”

Student: Pause, wide eyes… “Um… I’m not sure. I guess I use it to do. But my Dad said I should do what the pilots at the airlines do, and memorize the checklists then I’ll get faster. But I’m having a hard time because the checklists are so long.”

Karlene: “Dad is not exactly correct on how pilots “do it” at the airlines.”

We have procedures at each phase of flight then we follow up with the checklist to confirm we’ve accomplished the flight critical items.

We don’t memorize checklists. And neither should any pilot.

A few months ago I climbed into a Cessna to begin my journey of flying small planes again. What I noticed is the instructor zipped through the pre-flight, and configured the plane by memory. Then I read the checklist. But his actions were quick and precise because he’d flown many hours in this plane.

Time and experience will enable you to know what needs to be done, too. But checklists are called just that – “check” list – because you are to confirm the items have been completed. It doesn’t matter how many hours you have in the plane, there is no excuse not to follow procedures. Which brought me to this discussion with my favourite private pilot – How to manage normal procedures.

What if general aviation pilots used the procedures that pilots flying commercial airliners use?

A few things would happen – pilots, hoping to fly with the airlines, will have a solid foundation of standard operating procedures, new pilots will learn to expedite their training, and procedures utilizing a checklist the way it was designed will improve safe operations – no more missing things.

S.O.P. – Standard Operating Procedures – Are procedures we create to set up our airplane for each phase of flight. Doing the same thing, the same way, every flight will create habit patterns. In planes with two or three pilots, this enables everyone to know what the other pilots are doing even if they’d never flown with them before. I can get into any plane, anytime, with a new crew and we’re all operating off of the same script.

When I first learned to fly, 32 years ago, I was taught to use the checklist as a read and do list. Now, when I begin flying my general aviation aircraft again, I intend on creating flow patterns, just as I do in the A330, and use the checklist to check.

Flow patterns are used for configuring our plane for, the exact order, each phase of flight – Preflight, before start, after start, before takeoff… all the way to landing, taxi and shutdown.

I draw lines on a picture of the flight deck from step one, to two, and so on for each phase. I sit in front of the panel… if you can do it in the plane is best… and touch the item that I need to configure. I memorize the flow patterns of how to configure the plane during each phase of flight. Then I pick up the checklist and read and confirm the item was complete.

When practicing, I don’t need to move the switch. I don’t even need to be in the plane. A cockpit panel picture works. But I make a point of speaking aloud, and touching each item in the correct sequence. Over and over again, until I have it perfect. This is how I learned my procedures on the Boeing 727, 737, 757, 767, 747, 747-400, and the A330. It works.

Proper checklist usage is essential for the safe operation of any flight.

The technique I use is to read the item as a question. I look for the answer to the question on the panel. Then I read the response on the checklist to see if I got the answer correct.

The human mind will give you the answer you expect. Far too many pilots who read the checklist and the response, then look at the switch position, and will think the switch is in the correct position, when it’s not.

The human mind will create an illusion to make it fit your expectations, unless you challenge it.


Landing lights… On.

Read, “Landing lights” then look at the switch. Is it on or off? State the answer by looking at the switch, “then” look at the answer on the checklist. Are they the same? You’re golden. If not, fix it.

Establish a foundation of good procedures and you’ve created a platform for successful and safe flights for the remainder of your flying career.

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1 comment

  1. thomas toth aus


    SUMing it in this way,is to be sure or the saying tripple checkking.
    The comparison between the 2 persons comments is assumption is there, assuming. Assuming to have done the do list is not the same concentration on the checklist..Speaking from past nearly qualified electrician to see unsafe pratices done to a heli being built in bankstown in the name of time and money, deletes WORKMANSHIP A1, Leaving the term Pilot Error most. pravelent.Hindsight is for deceased.Lest we forget 29 nov.

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