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What are you doing over there?

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most From Your Flight Training, February, 2007
CFIDarren Newsletter, August 12, 2010
Navigation:  Fundamentals of CRM | Resolving Conflict | Workload Management | Checklist Usage | Briefings & Callouts | Training CRM | Threats to Safety | Error Management | Integrating Threat & Error ManagementWhat are you doing over there? | Barriers to Pilot Monitoring

Next:  Resolving Conflict >>

Flying is a performance sport.  From your earliest days with a Flight Instructor, it was all about performing in front of another pilot.  That follows every pilot throughout their flying career regardless of the level of flying they do.  Its true of Private Pilots as well as Airline Pilots.  As a result, there will be times when there's another pilot next to you.  The airlines call this the "Pilot Monitoring" because the 2nd pilot, while not Pilot in Command, monitors the flight, looks for traffic, and mentally flies the aircraft while watching everything the PIC does.

Ok if we follow the logic, then we'll recognize that its the 2nd pilot's job to monitor and challenge errors.  If a deviation happens, it not only reflects on the PIC but also that 2nd pilot.  "What are you doing over there?" is what the airline Captain says when he busts an altitude and the First Officer didn't catch it.  As the 2nd pilot, he earns his keep by monitoring the flight, not sightseeing.

This concept was lost on a young pilot I was recently flying with.  I was not acting as her Flight Instructor, but as the 2nd pilot.  We were taking turns flying a particularly long cross country flight, she flew the leg out, and I was to fly the leg back.  During the 3 hour flight to the destination, I challenged every pilot deviation when it was outside the standards.  How far outside the standards?  Way far out.  I wasn’t overly critical, after all, this was a pleasure flight.  (If I was acting as a Flight Instructor, I would have challenged at +/- 100 feet.)

About 20 minutes short of our destination, she finally asked me why I was riding her back.  She felt like I was being overly critical of her flying.  I was very cautious in my response because I was not acting as a Flight Instructor on this flight.  I explained to her that our goal as certificated pilots is to fly to PTS standards for the rating we hold.  For a commercial pilot, she should hold herself to +/- 100 feet +/- 10 degrees of heading.  I explained that I try to hold myself to ATP standards of +/- 50 feet +/- 5 degrees heading.  I then explained that the "Pilot Monitoring" that will challenge any deviations outside the standards.  I reminded her that I never challenged her for being 100 feet off but 200-300-400 feet off altitude and that I expected her to do the same thing for me.

We finished our dinner, went back to the airport for the preflight, and then briefed our departure and her responsibilities as a 2nd pilot in the aircraft.  The plan for the flight was a GPS direct heading to our destination.  When I noticed my own errors, I called them out and corrected them.  About 1 hour into the flight, we needed to deviate around some airspace ahead, so I briefed a new heading, maintaining altitude.  About 10 minutes into the new heading she said, "Don't you like the altitude we were on?"  I was surprised because I found myself 200 feet off altitude.  It happened in an instant and I couldn't explain why.  I told her, "this is exactly what I'm expecting you to do -- challenge me when I'm off heading, course, altitude, etc."  She realized that I never intended to be off altitude and I appreciated the challenge from her.  I think she finally understood "Pilot Monitoring" and how important it is.

Its human nature.  We all make mistakes and especially so when it comes to the constant attention flying demands. As such, that 2nd pilot in the aircraft should be mentally flying, watching for other traffic, and monitoring the pilot in command.  That's the best way to trap mistakes when we're flying with another pilot. In fact, three quarters of all errors can be corrected by good pilot monitoring.

The major benefit to the Pilot in Command is that his errors are trapped and eliminated.
  That makes the monitoring just as important as the flying.  To create a true "crew" concept for the flight, tasks such as the radio can be delegated to the 2nd pilot.  That relieves the PIC from menial tasks and secondary issues.

The Best Way to Say It

Next time you're on a flight and there's another pilot sitting next to you, put him to work.  A proper briefing is the key.  Before you go flying with another pilot, you should brief your expectations and what role that other pilot will play during the flight or during an emergency.  Here's a typical briefing:

"For our flight today to ____, I am Pilot in Command. During the flight, if you see anything wrong, I'll expect you to advise me.  This is also true of altitude, course, and heading deviations.  I will expect you to keep an eye out for traffic and advise its relative position.  In the event of an emergency, I would ask that you handle the radios.  Are there any questions?"

If you were to receive this kind of briefing, you as the 2nd pilot are clearly called to be the pilot monitoring.  Use this article to help you make the appropriate call-outs to the PIC: Training CRM

Proper call-outs and good CRM is so important because it makes pilots predictable to each other.  With such predictability, two pilots can operate seamlessly as a team.  As an added bonus, briefings and other communications and call-outs go a long way to increase safety of flight.

Let's talk about one more thing.  Regardless of the briefing you are given, you still hold some liability for the safe and successful execution of the flight.  Let's say something happens.  You both survive and you now both face the FAA who will expect you both to explain the incident.  As the 2nd pilot in the aircraft, you may be held accountable even if you weren't PIC.  This is especially true if you hold a pilot certificate which is higher than the PIC.  You would have had a duty to monitor and assist the PIC who holds a lower rating than you.  If you hold a Commercial Pilot Certificate or ATP and you are flying with a Private Pilot Certificate, then you had better be an active participant in the flight or get good legal counsel when the stuff hits the fan.

Next:  Resolving Conflict >>

Reader Comments

Date: Sun, 25 Mar 2007     Name = Don H
Comments = Appreciate this article. I have had two occasions while riding Right Seat with actual pilots who were 'giving' me a ride, i have questioned their actions. Was not really sure that it was my place.... but I see the advantage of a second pair of eyes and won't feel out of place questioning something.

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