Flight Safety Resource for Pilots

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APPROACH AND LANDING – This is the single most demanding phase of flight, and the one that carries the highest risk.

In the last Flight Analysis section, we talked about being ahead of the airplane, about being prepared and using slow times to catch up. This means that by the time we get to the terminal area, we are ready for all possibilities. This preparation can sometimes begin a thousand miles from destination. Usually, whenever a professional crew receives a STAR (standard terminal arrival route), they will:

• Enter all waypoints into the FMS (flight management system)
• Review the entire route including notes, remarks, crossing restrictions, speed requirements, etc.
• Brief the arrival and double-check navigation system for accuracy

Nothing is more embarrassing than arriving at a fix after having been given an arrival procedure, and then having to scramble to read an instruction that’s been sitting in front of you for an hour. Some of the items that should be conducted in cruise flight before arrival into the terminal area include:

• Review the STAR. If no STAR is provided, then briefly review any STAR for your arrival airport. This will help you familiarize yourself with the area, the common waypoints used for arrival, and the normally expected altitudes and airspeeds.
• Plan when to begin descent and at what altitude you wish to be at a given point.
• Receive ATIS as soon as possible. If you are a single pilot going into a busy terminal area, consider contacting Flight Service enroute for destination weather.
• Review expected approach plates.
• Review any class B or class C airspace.

Arriving prepared makes a pilot more confident and relaxed. It leaves more time for looking outside the cockpit for traffic, weather, and the like. In brief, it allows a pilot to have better situational awareness.

APPROACH BRIEFING—The professional flight crews have some advantage in this area. Two crewmembers flying an airplane on autopilot in class A airspace can safely and effectively brief for an arrival. One pilot monitors the flight while the other performs the brief. Some of the items covered on an arrival briefing are:

• The airport area and obstacles
• On an instrument approach, all the particulars of the approach
• Special notes or instructions for the airport
• Runway to be used. Is there and ILS to back up a visual? Is there a VASI?
• Expected taxi route
• Numbers for arrival, including approach speeds and distance required

A single pilot operation can accomplish the same thing by reviewing the information before takeoff or possible in cruise. Making notes as necessary and having all the needed charts at your fingertips is vital. Discuss in your head the path to the runway and what you will need to do where. This is all part of thinking ahead of the airplane.

STABILIZED APPROACH—A stabilized approach is one in which the aircraft maintains a predetermined speed and configuration. This is critical in the professional world. Many airlines have systems on their aircraft that record when an unstabilized approach is performed. These programs are called FOQA (flight operation quality assurance). If a pilot performs an unstabilized approach, he or she might receive a phone call later asking for an explanation; this shows how important the airlines believe using a stabilized approach to be, and how serious they take the procedure.

A stabilized approach begins at a predetermined point (for example, an outer marker). Beyond this point, the aircraft is “in the window” or “on speed” and properly configured. Different companies have different parameters. They may include aircraft configuration, speed, minimum power settings, and vertical speed, to name a few. An example might be:

• Outer Marker – Aircraft on the localizer and glideslope, gear down, flaps approach, speed less than 140 knots.
• 500 feet above decision height or above touchdown if field in sight—Aircraft still on localizer and glideslope, gear down, flaps full, speed Vref + 15 or less. Note: This is the “window.” Should your speed vary by 15 knots or more, or should you loose the loc or glideslope by one dot, execute a missed approach or go around.

Most aircraft that run off the end of a runway on landing did not shoot a stabilized approach. The urge to salvage the approach and avoid a go-around was too strong for the pilot to ignore. “It was VFR and it looked like we could do it,” or “We were a little high but I thought we could get down,” are explanations often offered by pilots after such accidents. Some pilots occasionally get by with this, but if this is allowed as a company or as a group, it will result in accidents on a regular basis. What this means to you is that if you always use a stabilized approach, you can probably avoid this number one accident.

The PILOTS MANUAL BUILDER will guide you through developing guidelines for a stabilized approach.

CALLOUTS—It is important to understand the callouts that a crew might use on a typical approach. While you will not be able to use this technique as a single pilot, you can still understand the intention and incorporate many of the same concepts into your flights.

PF—Pilot Flying
PNF—Pilot Not Flying
You will see these used in professional publications. Some institutions have changed PNF to PM (or pilot monitoring), but they mean the same thing.

Beginning at initial approach or downwind leg –
PF-“Flaps approach.”
PNF- Set approach flaps – “Flaps set approach, showing approach.”
PF-“Gear down and before-landing checklist.”
PNF- Extend the Gear - “Gear down and locked, three green, verify?”
PF-“Gear down and locked, three green, verified.”
PNF- After completion of checklist – “Landing checks are complete; holding on remaining flaps and ... any remaining items.”
1000 feet – PNF- “Thousand feet above the ground, (VFR) Instruments cross-checked, gyros agree. On loc and slope, speed 130 and slowing.”
PF- “Flaps full.”
PNF- Sets full flaps – “Flaps are set full and showing full, checklist items are complete, you are set for a landing.”
500 feet – PNF- “500 feet to the ground (VFR), on loc and slope, speed is ref +10 and slowing, sinking 600 feet per minute.”
PF – “Roger.”
200 feet – PNF- “200 feet to the ground (VFR), on loc and slope, on ref, sinking 600 feet per minute.”
PF – “Roger.”
100 feet – PNF- “100 feet to the ground (VFR), on loc and slope, on ref, sinking 600 feet per minute.”
PF – “Roger.”
50 feet – PNF – “50 feet.”

The VFR visual approach – If you are IFR rated (and VFR pilots should consider learning this), it is good practice to use the localizer and glideslope when available. Airlines and Corporate flight departments always use this technique to ensure a stabilized approach. This simple act accomplishes several things:

• It creates a standard operating procedure—Your arrival and approach procedure are always the same, regardless of the weather conditions. When the ceiling and visibility are low, you are not trying to operate the aircraft in a way that you are not used to.
• It develops a routine and increases awareness—If you always have the same approach routine, you begin to become aware of different things like required power settings, rate of descent, speed fluctuations, etc. As a result, you will be much more likely to notice an anomaly when one occurs.

It is important to remain vigilant and “fly” the aircraft even after the wheels touchdown. Trying to be courteous and exit the runway promptly for landing aircraft behind you is important, but not at the cost of safety. You are responsible for the operation of your aircraft. If you make a valid attempt to exit the runway and someone has to go around, that happens and no one is in trouble. If you go off the pavement because you were trying to clear the runway too fast, you will have some explaining to do, and no one is going to thank you for the fast exit. Lastly, wait until you clear the runway and you’ve come to a stop before flipping switches. Also, use a checklist for after-landing checks to avoid flipping the wrong switches.

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