Considerations for abnormal situations after takeoff
How should a commercial aircraft be managed if an abnormal situation occurs after takeoff? Below are a few considerations from the Crew Resource Management (CRM) point of view that can assist pilots in managing their tasks under high workload. A good tip is that no matter how high the workload is, always ‘stop and think about it’.
- If an abnormal situation is detected after liftoff, the first task to do is to fly the aircraft away from the ground. When at altitude and the aircraft is stable, engage the autoflight system so that both pilots can participate in identifying the problem. A drawback of a two crew cockpit is that in such situations the Pilot Flying (PF) must devote some time to crosschecking the problem described by the Pilot Monitoring (PM).
- Initiate the immediate actions, and if no immediate actions are required, establish a safe aircraft state. That is, leave the problem, fly at a safe speed and find a safe place and altitude. The ‘safe place and altitude’ may be to continue climbing via your clearance. However, safe place and altitude’ may also include leveling off and proceeding to a holding area.
- These preliminary actions have managed the immediate threats, but before you get out the Quick Reference Handbook (QRH), take a look at your fuel. Fuel equals time. Compare your fuel on board with your indicated fuel flow. The considerations here may include for example, with a gear or flight control problem, the Flight Management System (FMS) fuel predication is probably not correct. It has become an error generator.
- Now pull out the QRH and both pilots must identify the correct checklist to be used. Once completed the flight crew will need to discuss the situation, taking fuel, weather, safety, legality…etc into account, and form a plan on whether to continue, divert or return for a landing. This differs from aircraft to aircraft. Turning back may include dumping extra fuel to get the aircraft weight under the Maximum Landing Weight (MLW). This may be a cost consideration for the company and should be considered seriously. Also, if returning, how to configure for the safest landing should also be noted.
- So far the communications have been between the pilots and, to a lesser degree, Air Traffic Control (ATC). It is now the time to utilise some of the outside resources. You will need to communicate with the cabin crew, the passengers, maintenance, operations and ATC. The Passenger Announcement must, under all circumstances, convey leadership and the promise of a good outcome. The announcement should contain information advising passengers of the situation, ensuring them that things are under control, and advise them of the subsequent actions. How to communicate the message correctly and effectively? Here is a simple model available for use. Use this Model (NITSS) when you speak to the passengers, maintenance, operations and ATC. Make modifications to suit who you are talking to.
Nature: “We have some damage to the…”
Intentions: “We plan to make…”
Time: “We will start the…”
Signals: “… (For example the cabin crew should take a seat when the cabin alert signal is illuminated)”
Situation: “We are currently…and will be…”
- Now, depending on the decision the flight crew had made to continue, divert, or return for a landing, the subsequent actions will be different. No matter what you do, safety of the aircraft and passengers are always your first priority. Ensure that all the crew knows your plan. Ensure that everybody on board knows your plan. Ensure that everybody on the ground knows your plan. And… good luck!
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