Aircraft Command Techniques
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Aircraft Command Techniques

Gaining Leadership Skills to Fly the Left Seat

Sal Fallucco

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eBook - ePub

Aircraft Command Techniques

Gaining Leadership Skills to Fly the Left Seat

Sal Fallucco

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A captain must be able not only to fly the aircraft, but also to manage it, manage the crew, and above all, manage his or her resources. In a number of air carriers there may be less than adequate additional training conducted, when upgrading pilots to the very responsible position of captain. However, three things that do not change are the authority, challenges, and responsibilities of being captain. They are as constant today as they will be in the years ahead. Aircraft Command Techniques is a comprehensive examination of the characteristics of the experienced captain. Each chapter begins with an appropriate and relevant anecdote that is analogous to the chapter's main theme. It then progresses to the chapter's main objective and finishes with a scenario that the reader is asked to solve from a captain's perspective using a number of considerations that are offered and should be evaluated when solving the problem. The intent is to help the pilot practise thinking as a captain. Offering a wealth of practical guidance, this book is an ideal platform for pilots or indeed anyone interested in how leadership and management skills are used to achieve excellence. The reader will gain important command skills and will learn how to apply these skills to routine and unexpected situations, in the same way as an experienced captain. The intended readership includes those worldwide in aviation universities and flight schools, in major airlines, in regional and cargo airlines, pilots upgrading to captain and those interested in leadership skill development.

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Chapter 1
Examining the Role of Captain

The Big Picture

The most precious thing to a pilot, and especially the captain of an airliner, is his or her ego! Nothing feeds or destroys that ego quicker than the quality of the last landing. This little anecdote probably exemplifies that point more than any other I can think of. Following a particularly hard landing, the captain, trying to maintain some sense of dignity, pulls himself up and moves to the cockpit door. As the captain, he knew his company required him to thank the passengers as they deplaned. Still smarting from his embarrassing landing he did all he could to avoid eye contact with the passengers as they passed him on their way out of the airplane. Feeling somewhat relieved that there were no comments, he felt that maybe he was home free. Finally, the last passenger, a little old lady using a cane, approached him and said, “Sonny I have a question.” “Yes ma’am,” replied the captain. “What can I do for you?” The passenger responded, “Were we shot down or did we land?”
But is that all there is to being a captain, the landing? I don’t think so! We have all been there. Sure every pilot delights in what is referred to as a “grease job” landing. We also know that does not always happen. Everyone knows that to be a good pilot, you must master stick and rudder skills in order to avoid bad landings or worse. However, as you get further into this business you realize that besides mastering the skills required to make good landings, there are many other skills a pilot will be asked to demonstrate as he/she operates from the left seat.
Airlines long ago recognized the responsibility, importance, and obligations of the individual sitting in command of their airplane. That pilot not only sits in the left seat but also occupies a point of strategic importance in the financial well being of the airline. Unlike ground employees, the flight crew cannot be directly supervised during flight (this is why the pilot must be a responsible person of high personal integrity. A pilot, therefore, is entrusted with great responsibility and allowed to occupy a special place of confidence within the company. Each pilot hired is needed and must be chosen carefully. When the time comes, the airline promotes and upgrades that pilot to even more responsibility. Universally then, that person becomes known as CAPTAIN.
Why all the fuss and attention you ask? Let’s put it like this; suppose you have taken all of your assets, bought very expensive equipment that requires highly trained professional operators, constant attention, and are costly to maintain. Well — would you not want those you place in charge of these machines to take care of them? Absolutely, without a doubt that is what you would want. And suppose your business is marketing the transport of people from point A to point B. You will need to hire people to support and fly these airplanes, all with the hope that there will be a profit at the end. But suppose you hire someone who uses poor judgment or fails to apply common sense. Does this not expose your assets to additional expense and/or total loss? Will it not affect your bottom line? Even worse, suppose that the same individual contributes to an accident that is the direct result of a human factor error. Will not your investment and even your very reputation suffer from such actions? Certainly it does! So what can you do about it?
First of all you need to hire the right people, and establish standards and operational procedures. Assuming you have done that, then the only thing left to do is provide good training. Training and safety go hand in hand. Today airlines all over the world hire consultants to analyze and study their operations in an attempt to either correct safety problems or hopefully prevent human factor caused accidents. The answer to many of the audits uncovering human safety shortcomings is simply good training programs.
Today we are experiencing one of those cycles in the history of aviation when there is more than an average amount of change occurring in the pilot ranks. This means many new people are sitting in captain’s seats throughout the world. Some people fret about that and wonder if the same level of safety will be maintained. Naturally most people associate gray hair and glasses with experience. The truth of the matter is that all pilots must start somewhere and build experience as the years go by. The one difference is that most of the pilots retiring today spent a number of years acquiring experience in the right seat and learned from some of the old stalwarts they watched. Unfortunately, many pilots moving to the left seat now are not being given that same opportunity. Does that mean it cannot be done? I don’t think so! It has been done before. If you believe as I do, that with good training the same level of safety can be reached as presently exists, then you would also agree that the only justifiable short cut to developing experience is to provide good training. Yes, I will say it again; the only substitute for the traditional way of building experience is – Training. In fact, good training is essential to building experience no matter how much time is available before upgrading. This book embraces that philosophy and advances a belief that reading will help you train and mentally prepare for transition from the right seat to the left.

Operating Above the Minimum Standard

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has oversight responsibility for aviation safety and is charged with developing and enforcing the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). As anyone could imagine, they have a Herculean task and cannot contrive specific requirements to fit each and every airline company operating in the world. The FAA, while striving to ensure that their mandate to oversee and maintain aviation safety is accomplished, also recognizes that there are differences between airline operations. And to that end, each must be allowed to develop its own culture within the broad guidelines of the federal safety umbrella. The FAA sets out to establish the minimum levels of safety that all aviation companies must meet. Neither air carrier nor pilot may operate below that level. They are certainly free and encouraged to operate above the minimum standard. In fact the FARs say that the air carrier must operate at the highest practical level of safety. Therefore, when it comes to upgrading to captain you will find only the requirements for Type Ratings and Initial Operating Experience (IOE) spelled out in the FARs.
So what do the airlines need to do to operate above the minimum standard as they qualify pilots to move to the left seat? First of all, a real commitment to safety is needed, and it must start at the top with the Chairman of the Board. By making a real commitment their actions ensure that their vision is clearly understood. What are those actions? In many cases, the actions start by establishing and communicating a vision statement of commitment to safety. The vision statement forms the building block for all levels of action by management. Merely stating the vision does not build the culture. The top executives must be seen to regularly demonstrate this commitment. Fellow executives and the Board of Directors must “buy in” to the commitment. Next, ensure that a few key individuals to head-up the significant departments are selected within the company to support it, and share responsibility for its implementation. Finally, all the talk and rhetoric means nothing unless it is supported and financed. As the message works its way through the airline structure, it gradually develops into the airline’s safety culture. Could most employees of an airline recite or articulate the safety culture verbatim? More than likely not, but by observing their performance and discipline one can clearly detect whether or not the message has gotten through.
Ultimately, within each airline, the Flight Operations Department is charged with two responsibilities. One is to ensure that FARs are administered and followed. Second, that the corporate objectives, in this case the airline’s commitment to safety, are adhered to. The FAA’s role in the grand scheme of things is to work with the officers of the various operating departments. In the case of pilots it is the Flight Operations Department. At times the relationship can be a stumbling block to what the airline wants to achieve, while at other times that relationship can actually be the leverage the Flight Operations Department needs to implement a program. As an old mentor of mine used to say, “ If the FAA did not exist, you would have to invent them.” For many years I wondered what that phrase meant but gradually as my years of experience built, I came to understand its meaning. That without the FAA in this complex industry we work in, or hope to work in, there would be chaos. Thus the need for rules, regulations, and enforcement by an independent agency.

The FAA’s Role

When we consider the FAA’s role in regard to the minimum standard for pilot-in-command training under FAR 121 and FAR 135, all that is required is the completion of a type rating and the IOE of 25 hours. This is where you begin to observe the many differences found among the various carriers. One carrier may provide only the minimum required amount of training time, while another airline may set a standard that goes beyond the regulations. As an example, some operators require more than the minimum 25 hours of IOE. A few carriers even provide special ground training and/or home study programs in preparation for a pilot moving to the left seat. It is important to note here that those carriers requiring more than the minimum level take on a burden of additional cost and that it all affects the bottom line, but generally this is a good investment in the long-term safety viability of the airline.

The Cost of Safety

If additional training costs more money, why do some airlines do it? They do it because their commitment to safety is real and they require a higher standard. They also realize as business people that the pilots they hire and put in the left seat control two very important aspects of the company. The first is the protection of their most expensive assets. Without those assets there is no revenue and no profit. As businessmen, they understand that if an accident or incident occurs, there will be costs incurred that are not insured. The second and more fundamental concept is the preservation of their company’s reputation. For they know that if the airline’s reputation is damaged or destroyed the very survival of the company can be threatened. Businessmen understand safety as it affects the financial results of their efforts. Although this may sound cold hearted, real businessmen understand and appreciate the effects of a good safety program. They understand it not as a moral issue but strictly as a business issue. Bottom line, poor safety is very costly.

Human Error

There are numerous examples around the world where human errors have tarnished an airline’s reputation. The accidents discussed in this book are done so with the intention of learning from them. Unfortunately, a number of airplane accidents occur because of human errors. These type of accidents create a negative public perception of the airline involved. Depending on the financial condition of the particular airline, the negative results of human factor caused accidents could be catastrophic. Correspondingly there are many incidents and even accidents where the reputation of an airline was enhanced because of outstanding human actions. To illustrate, three positive examples are mentioned here and will be discussed in more detail later in this book. One example involves the pilots of the 1988 Aloha Airlines Boeing 737–200 that suffered substantial structural damage in flight (see later in Chapter 12). They were able to land the airplane successfully with much of the upper section of the airplane blown off. In 1989, the pilots of a United Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10–10 were able to land their crippled airplane in Sioux City, Iowa after losing all of their flight controls (see later in Chapter 3). The loss of all hydraulic fluid occurred following the catastrophic failure of the No 2 engine. The captain competently used his remaining resources and crash-landed the airplane with engine power only. Since this book is not about stick and rudder skills but about the qualities and skills that embrace the whole concept of command, no example exemplifies these traits more than the hijacking of the TWA Boeing 727-200 in the Mediterranean in 1985 (coverd in Chapter 3). What should have been merely a routine flight through the Mediterranean, turned into a 17-day nightmare for the passengers and crew. Through strong personal discipline and skillful use of his resources, the captain was able to disable the airplane on the ground. This action eventually led to the release of the remaining passengers and crew, and the recovery of the airplane. As serious as these cases were, it was because of the competence and resourcefulness of the people who sat in the left seat that more lives were not lost.


When the time comes that you are promoted to captain, it is done with the expectation that you will demonstrate two qualities. First is the overall quality of performing in a professional manner, managing your resources. The second is that you will accept and function as a leader. Two words we hear over and over again, Professional and Leader! What do they really mean and what are your bosses expecting when they use those words? As a Professional it is expected that you will always operate your airplane and conduct your flight in accordance with company policies, and federal regulations, and that you will employ good judgment to the highest standards of proficiency. As a Leader you guide and direct others under your command to operate in a professional manner encompassing all of the things expected of a true professional. The two go hand in hand. And how is that measured? Simply, it is measured through your actions as the captain.
What does it take to move to the left seat? First of all, it is not just one thing. We know that the FARs establish what requirements a pilot must meet to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate. The specifics are found in FAR 61.153. Let us take a look at them. One, the applicant must be at least 23 years of age. Two, they must be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language. Three, they must be of good moral character. Four, they must meet at least one of the following requirements: Be the holder of at least a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating or meet the military experience requirements under FAR 61.73 of the Armed Forces of the United States. The applicant may even be the holder of a foreign ATP Certificate or a foreign commercial pilot license and an instrument rating, without limitations issued by a contracting State to the Convention on International Civil Aviation. Five, they must be able to pass the knowledge test on the aeronautical experience requirements. Six, they must pass the practical test.
When the requirements for an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate are compared to those for a Commercial Pilot Certificate, some differences are noted. The one difference that stands out, and may at first appear strange, is the requirement that an ATP applicant, “Be of good moral character.” What does that mean and what is that all about?
Moral character, looking in the dictionary we find each word individually defined. We are told that to be moral means one concerned with the goodness of human action. On the other hand, character is the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person from another. Putting the two together, it could be said that the FAA must have in mind the intent of establishing a very high standard for the issuance of an ATP Certificate. Therefore, when a pilot is issued an ATP Certificate the Federal Government is signifying that they hold that individual in the highest trust with respect to operating an airplane for hire. The pilot obtaining an ATP Certificate is considered to represent the epitome of the professional pilot. As a pilot develops experience, acquires licenses, and progressively moves from Private Pilot up through the Airline Transport Pilot, the level of difficulty is naturally going to increase, as will the demands on his or her performance. While advancing in training and ratings the ranks begin to thin out. A number of pilots give up the quest for various reasons. They drop out, lose interest, or simply stop pursuing what was once thought to be an ultimate goal. By the time a pilot meets the requirements to obtain the ATP he or she generally finds the field has narrowed so that only those with the best qualifications, strongest desire, and determined drive achieve the ATP Certificate. Remember, for each rating, pilots are only required to meet the minimum level mandated by the FAA.
Isn’t that enough you say? Well is it? Many operators demand more and they do this in a variety of ways. Broadly, as stated earlier, some operators provide more training time preparing their pilots for a type rating and eventual promotion to captain. Others require additional ground and home study work, while some even expand the number of hours beyond that required in the regulations for IOE. Each airline is free to choose what their standard will be, provided it is above the minimum. Many pilots throughout the airline industry demand more of themselves, and this is certainly the mark of true professionalism!

“Who Was the Captain?”

Earlier, we said that the captain of an airplane controls two very important aspects of his or her company. One is the protection of the airline’s assets. Second, and possibly more important, is the protection of the company’s reputation. The August 30, 1999 issue of Aviation Week &Space Technology pointed out that Uni Air, a Taiwanese airline formed by the merger of three companies: Great China Airlines a subsidiary of EVA Air, Taiwan Airlines, and Uni Air, was experiencing financial difficulty. All three individual companies were either losing money or barely breaking even. However, things suffered even more after the merger as load factors plummeted following two crashes earlier in the year. The crashes destroyed public confidence, damaging Uni Air’s reputation with the traveling public, ultimately creating a negative affec...

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