Checklist Philosophy

Checklists are used in many areas of day to day life. Their function is to assist people to properly complete many types of tasks, from shopping to heart surgery. A checklist need not always be something that is written down. We don't always need to write down a shopping list before a trip to the super market. Most of the time we can complete a shopping trip by remembering which items we need. Our mental checklists work well but due to a number of reasons, like distractions, [ERRORS] are made. Sometimes an item is forgotten. In the vast majority of cases, small errors or [LAPSES] in memory never amount to anything serious happening, and so we continue to make do with our haphazard mental checklists to help get us through day to day living.

Checklists in Aviation

Aviation is an example of one area that could not function safely without checklists. Due to the complex nature of aircraft and the aviation environment, pilots are exposed to checklist use from their very first day learning to fly. When learning to fly, checklists are relatively simple and so are generally committed to memory. They are ordered and structured and each one is specific to a particular phase of flight. When needed, they are recalled and actioned by the pilot. However, on larger and more complicated aircraft, actual printed checklists are used, so the requirement to recite the individual items in order, and from memory is negated. This is because on more complex aircraft, checklists contain many more items than can safely be committed to memory and recalled with 100% accuracy, 100% of the time. The only way to ensure constant accuracy, is to read the items from a checklist.

Checklists must be legible, this can be achieved by using a plain font printed in black on white paper with normal lower case lettering. This is due to the fact that word shape, in normal lower case, can be read quicker and is easier to comprehend (Dye, 1995[1]). Upper case, bold or italics should only be used for emphasis. Checklists should be produced to be resistant to wear from repetitive use.

Checklist History

Since 1903, when the Wright brothers first flew, many thousands of aviators have died in many thousands of crashes. Many could have been easily preventable. Lessons were learned and many of these lessons are reflected in the checklists in use today. Simple and seemingly obvious items like "FUEL QUANTITY" in a pre-departure checklist, or "LANDING GEAR DOWN" in a landing checklist, are there for a very important reason. Even though pilots know that these are important, they can still be forgotten. The checklist is there to ensure they are not.

A checklist is usually divided into several sections, each of which represent the various phases of flight. For example: Pre Start; After Start; Pre Take-Off; Climb; Cruise; Approach; Landing; After Landing. This can be colour coded if necessary to speed up the search for the relevant sections.

Read checklists can take several forms. The most common type takes the form of a simple card which various checklist items are printed. The call outs for a challenge and response should never be limited to multi crew operations and should be adopted for single pilot operations as well (Kern, 1998[2]). On a more complex and modern aircraft, the checklist is displayed to the crew on the electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) screen. The advantage of this form of checklist is that the individual items can be ticked off one by one, this is known as tagging and it reduces the chance of missing a checklist item should the crew be disrupted in between checks (Spitzer, 2006[3]).

1. Dye, R. (1995). Human performance considerations in the use and design of aircraft checklists. Fort Worth, TX: U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration.
2. Kern, A. (1998). Flight Discipline. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional.
3. Spitzer, C. (2006). Avionics: Elements, Software and Functions. London, United Kingdom: CRC Press.

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Authors / Editors

Kevin DaceKevin Dace

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