Thursday, November 14, 2019

Debrief Issue 2/2010

Stick to the Basics: Stable Approach and Sterile Cockpit

by Mike Treskin, Civil Aviation Safety Inspector, System Safety, Ontario Region, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

I recently gave a safety seminar to a large group of general aviation (GA) pilots. A few of the subjects that generated some serious discussions were go-arounds, overshoots and missed approaches. Another one was the (lack of) seriousness of a sterile cockpit while on final approach and on departure.

There are a number of standard operating procedures (SOPs) used by major airlines that can be implemented by GA pilots into their own personal operating procedures (POP). One of them is the stabilized approach. Typically, an airliner on approach under instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) will need to be stabilized prior to going below 1 000 ft as a minimum, or by the final approach fix (FAF), whichever occurs first. Under visual meteorological conditions (VMC), 500 ft is the minimum. If the aircraft is not stabilized on approach by then, the pilot must conduct a go-around and try again, if fuel permits.

What is meant by a stable approach? Stable means that the aircraft is fully configured and is at the right reference speed (Vref) for the approach and landing. Now, to apply this to a GA setting, you need to establish a minimum altitude where your aircraft is wings-level, all lift/drag devices are out, and you have the approach speed pegged. That altitude should be the minimum for your comfort zone. If you are not stabilized by the time you reach that altitude on approach, you should go around.

Give yourself a margin for a small altitude loss and to allow for a successful go around. Remember that when going around, you will be busy trimming and reconfiguring the aircraft, and communicating with air traffic services or others in the traffic. You will need to stop the descent and start climbing to a safe altitude. Can you remember the last time you needed to go around, or the last time you practiced one?

We sometimes tend to push the safe envelope when we come in for landing. You only need to observe aircraft on final to see if they are stable and ready for landing. Many are making noticeable power changes, pitch changes and heading corrections. Some descend below the ideal approach path and then drag the aircraft in. A go-around after an unstabilized approach is usually safer than trying to “squeeze on in.”

Another topic we discussed at the safety seminar was sterile cockpits. Any distractions during a critical phase of flight, such as takeoff and landing, could be disastrous. All large commercial aircraft will have an SOP stating that all non-flying-related conversation will cease once flying through 10 000 ft in descent. The cockpit will be quiet unless it has a bearing on the flight. Again, this SOP can easily be adapted to the GA pilot who regularly flies with passengers.

This is best done during the pre-flight safety briefing to the passengers. Advise them that you would appreciate the cockpit to be silent for the take-off, climb, descent and landing portions of the trip. Still, they should be encouraged to point out safety items, such as nearby traffic or any warning light on the instrument panel.

Once you have flown in a sterile cockpit, you will notice how it can reduce the stress of flying with passengers on board.

“Blackfly Air” Loses a Friend

It is with great sadness that we inform our readers of the passing of Marc Guertin, our Aviation Safety Letter (ASL) illustrator for the past 10 years. Among his favourite assignments were all 19 episodes of “Blackfly Air”, which started as a simple way to introduce safety management system (SMS) concepts, and evolved into the peculiar saga of a fictitious grumpy 703 operator and his business-savvy wife. Marc also created a number of civil aviation classics, such as all six “Runway Incursions Are Real!” posters and the “Cats Can See in the Dark. You Can’t!” night VFR poster. Over the years, he created nearly 100 custom illustrations for the articles and tear-outs in our newsletters. We extend our condolences to Marc’s family and many friends.

Watch for the return of “Blackfly Air” in a future issue of the ASL.