Saturday, March 23, 2019
Transport Canada - Aviation Safety Letter Stick to the Basics: Aviate, Navigate and Communicate - ISSUE 4/2009

Stick to the Basics: Aviate, Navigate and Communicate - ISSUE 4/2009

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

I was reading the letter sent by an experienced crop-duster (“Mayday at low altitude? Don’t yip on the radio!” in Aviation Safety Letter [ASL] 4/2008) about trying to send a distress call (mayday) while flying at low altitude. He stated that when push comes to shove and time is critical, you might not have time to make a mayday call. All of your efforts will be required to fly the aircraft to safety.

I tend to agree with the writer’s logic simply because if you are a crop-duster and your flying environment is well below 200 ft above ground level (AGL) with an established speed well below Vne, then you won’t have time to broadcast your situation and intentions.

I always think back to the training I received when I started my flying career. I was taught that during an emergency, the first priority was ALWAYS to fly the aircraft. Whatever the situation, controlling the aircraft is your main concern. I was also taught that once you are in control of your aircraft, you can then get back to the other important aspects of aviation, i.e. navigating and communicating.

Having just returned from an assignment with a major airline where I was part of the pilot recruitment team, I observed over 2 000 pilots in a level D simulator undergo a variety of emergencies, including an engine failure after rotation (Vr). Half of all the pilot candidates did the wrong thing. They immediately took control of the radio and transmitted to the tower or departure controller that an emergency was in progress. What they should have done is apply crew resource management (CRM) and ask the pilot not flying (PNF) to transmit the emergency call. In a large commercial aircraft, the pilot flying’s (PF) primary responsibility is to aviate, and the PNF’s responsibility is to communicate.

Flying the aircraft during a critical phase of flight is the most important action a pilot must follow. Depending on the level of experience and the type of flying, you will always need to use your skills, experience and previous training to emerge safely from a critical emergency. For example, one of the most time-critical emergencies a general aviation pilot can face is an engine failure after takeoff or at circuit altitude. Maintaining control of the aircraft will make the difference between a successful forced landing and a crash. Once the aircraft is under control and properly configured, you can then start looking for a place to put it down. Your next action, time permitting, will be to talk to someone. When time is critical, a mayday call and the aircraft’s registration could be the only thing you will transmit before you will need to return to flying.

A failure at altitude is basically the same procedure, except that time is no longer against you. You should have time to select a better field and possibly assess the problem and determine if a restart is possible. Once you know where you are and where you are going, then broadcast your message and your intentions.

I have met a few pilots who have flown all their lives without declaring an emergency. Pilots such as these are very rare. As they say in the ranks, there are those who will and those who have. Be prepared and always review in your mind what you need to do if an emergency occurs in the next phase of your flight. I would encourage all pilots to practice various emergency procedures with a qualified flying instructor at least once a year, especially at the beginning of each flying season. Slow flying, stall recognition and entry, stall recovery, spins, and practice forced landings come to mind as must-do exercises. Practice makes perfect.

During a stressful flying situation, you will likely come out on top if you stick to the basics: aviate, navigate and (time-permitting) communicate. Safe flying!


This article was published by Transport Canada in TP 185E -. Reprinted with permission