Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Checklists: Not Just for Pilots Anymore

The air regulations require checklists, and pilots can fail flight tests for improper checklist use, even if they actually completed all the required items, but it doesn't mean every pilot uses one every time. Some operators inadvertently encourage this through providing overly long, poorly formatted and difficult to use checklists.

In my career I have watched macho captains deliberately skip checklist items, or even entire checklists. I have been bullied for using the checklist, and told not to come back tomorrow unless I had the checklist memorized. I know someone who failed a PPC check on an accusation of improper checklist use. (It turned out the examiner was using the wrong checklist, so that occurrence magically disappeared from the candidate's record).

Despite pilot machismo, or passenger apprehension that following a checklist means you don't know what you're doing, checklists are a cheap, simple way to improve safety in a complex environment. A reader sent me this fascinating article on checklist use in the medical profession. The idea was initially met with skepticism, and derided as time wasting, but the lifesaving results were dramatic enough to win converts.

It made me cry, and gave me a new dedication to my own checklists.


janra said...

"Proper checklist use."

That item on the PPL test actually worries me because despite being ready for my pre-flight test (repeatedly cancelled due to weather), I have no idea what the examiner will be looking for.

Add to that I haven't really been taught how to use them while flying (we always use them on the ground, but not in the air) and I never developed the habit of checking my checklists while flying.

I discovered while re-typing the school's checklists into my own format that there were a number of things on the checklists that I hadn't been doing, and none of the instructors I've flown with ever called me on it.

All this and I've written checklists for labs and water treatment plants myself... :-)

Anonymous said...

"Proper checklist use."

That item on the PPL test actually worries me because despite being ready for my pre-flight test (repeatedly cancelled due to weather), I have no idea what the examiner will be looking for."

You never ran through a physical checklist on an simulated emergency? Even if you have it all memorized, double-checking your actions against a checklist is important.

The human memory is fallible, the purpose of checklists is not necessarily a "do" list (as in, read then do), but rather to just "check" against your own trained actions. At least that's what my flight school teaches us.

Of course, if you are on takeoff, and your engine fails on climbout you most likely do not have time to pull out and read a checklist. There you will have to go by memory.

It's just about knowing WHEN and HOW to use a checklist.

Aviatrix said...

Janra, in a single-pilot operation with no autopilot, proper checklist use means that on the ground, you verify with the written that you have completed all the items on each checklist before moving on, and that in the air you use the checklist when it is safe to do so, but memory checklists when it isn't. If you have a mnemonic to or a flow check prior to landing, that should be acceptable. If you have an alternator problem, it would be appropriate to pull out the checklist and follow it, but uo course the engine failure at take-off checklist must be done from memory.

Ed Davies said...

Interesting recent document related to the importance of details in proper checklist composition:

S1/2008 - Boeing 777-236 ER, G-YMMM

Fortunately, in this case the less-than-optimal BA checklist didn't result in any injuries.

Lord Hutton said...

Brilliant article. I am sure we all have checklists.

Anonymous said...

I think that checklist usage on the PPL really depends on the examiner. For me it meant that when doing the pre-landing checklist I'd better have the checklist available and physically looking at it after I completed all of the checklist items. For other examiners as long as you perform the actions on the checklist it's enough. In most cases your instructor/s will have worked with the examiner enough to know what is expected and will train you accordingly. Still, I've always been a huge fan of inflight checklists so I think you should learn to use them every time whether your instructor wants it or not. As an aside I would add that this is a GREAT question for your instructor. It might be time for a quick call to the FBO to discuss this.

Xaqman said...

When my wife had her caesarian section, the surgeon closed her up and proudly announced the time, "Five past! I told you!" he said to his staff. THEN they started looking for a missing piece of apparatus. They were looking everywhere for about 2 minutes before they found it (outside her, thankfully). Needless to say, I wasn't dazzled by their professionalism, and I actually thought, "You need a checklist, Jerk!"

A Squared said...

Here's an interesing contrarian opinion:

I'm generally pretty religious about checklist use at work (4 engine, 3 crew airplane) but on the other hand, I never use one when flying my own airplane on floats. A seaplane is always moving from the moment you push off from the shore or dock, and I don't want to be head-down reading in a moving airpalne. Instead I use a system of flows and mnemonic devices.

zb said...

The one thing that makes this blog so great is that it is not just an aviation blog but that so many stories relate to just about any job out there.

I do like all the aviation talk very much, but what I love is how many thoughts are triggered by all the stuff between the lines -- or, as in this post, by the very lines themselves.

majroj said...

Ah, checklists...
1. No such thing as a "mental checklist". The entire express point of a checklist is to stop trying to do it by memory. Sometimes you cannot do a real checklist so you are forced to mentally recount the steps or wing it and rely on training/instincts, but there is no "mental checklist".
(First official checklist on U.S. aircraft was after the first prototype of the B-17 bomber was crashed and all souls dead because someone forgot to remove the rudder block. (Heck, pilots with navy craft occasionally taxied with their wings up and either tried, or belatedly remembered and aborted, takeoff with that strange triangular airfoil).
Yes, we use checklists in medicine, but many we have are written by either a lawyer or a committee including a lawyer. However, some are, mine! (;)>>

Anonymous said...

No such thing as a "mental checklist"? Don't get hung up on the definition of checklist - if you run through a list from memory (like remembering your keys/wallet/cell phone/coffee in the morning, it's a checklist. Is there a better word for it? By the way, anyone who requires you to be heads down in a cockpit in a simple trainer doing a downwind check from a piece of paper should have their head slapped. Keep your eyes outside!

D. Patrick Caldwell said...

I agree that there's no such thing as a mental checklist. If you don't have enough time to look at and execute your checklists, you're probably behind the airplane.

I wrote a blog post about a time I missed an item on my GUMPS check because of a distraction ... all because I didn't use my checklist.

I learned a tough lesson and now I have most things memorized, but I still go through the checklists.