You’re in a solid IMC on the last hour of what has been a five-hour IFR flight. The weather is poor, it’s cold and bumpy and you have a couple of passengers with you who are getting nervous. Suddenly, one of your annunciator lights come on, indicating that there is a problem somewhere on your airplane. Between being tired and distracted, how can you ensure that you are properly prepared to deal with the situation?
Webster defines standardization as “to bring into conformity with a standard especially in order to assure consistency and regularity.” While the definition is valid, it only tells part of the story. The other part of standardization in aviation is programming muscle memory into your body.
Richard Marcinko coined the phrase “the more you sweat in training the less you bleed in battle.” We can take this quote and apply it to flight training. “The more you sweat in training, the less stressed you will be if an emergency occurs during a flight.”
We can break standardization down into three parts as follows:
• Human factors
Human factors include reactions, responses, actions, decision making and physiological aspects of you, the pilot, and your passengers. When pilots have been trained for an emergency, they
are more mentally prepared to handle the situation with minimal stress. You should encourage your instructor(s) to take you through a series of what-if scenarios in a simulator or aircraft (if they can be conducted safely). These may include emergencies ranging from engine issues, lost comms and fires. This can even include discussions based on “what would you do if …?” Many nonprofessional pilots experience some sort of concern or anxiety when they fly (especially in IFR) because they aren’t fully confident as to what they would do if faced with an emergency
or abnormal situation. This means that many only come to face adverse flying conditions or situations in the moment and they might not be calm enough to make rational decisions.
Different airplanes have different avionics configurations, systems and flight characteristics. What may work for one type of aircraft or avionics setup may not work for another. How well do you know the systems of the aircraft that you will be flying? Your preparation for VFR flight may be quite simple. However, if you are going to fly that airplane into IFR conditions or at night, you may want to know and understand much more.
Are you flying in the wintertime, summertime, daytime, or nighttime? What about cold weather vs. warm weather? Are you prepared to deal with the challenges that come with a changing environment? As basic as many of these observations and questions are, they can become quite significant when combined or if you are not well prepared.
The Next Step
Just as a flight department or airline has procedures for standardizing their pilots’ operations, you should too. This can be as simple as reviewing winter flying techniques or scheduling time in a simulator with an instructor every 3 – 6 months to maintain your proficiency and understanding of emergency procedures. It sounds easier said than done, right? Wrong! It’s actually easy to set up your own personal standardization program and if you are a private pilot without an instrument rating, here’s how you start:
Open your calendar and locate two free hours of time. Call your local flight school and ask to schedule a two-hour simulator block with an instructor to focus on emergency procedures and systems.
Next, flip the pages of that same calendar to six months later and set aside another two hours to schedule the same simulator block. Only this time, add in some lost procedures as well as some basic instrument skills. You may also want to do some work in the airplane such as ground reference maneuvers, flying to different airports, transitioning various types of controlled airspace.
If you are an instrument rating pilot, you may want to have the instructor work with you on different types of approaches, partial panel and lost comm procedures.
In addition to these sessions, you can begin to create your own “standards” manual. This might include various forms that you like to use, as well as specific information about your aircraft, airports, or other unique topics.
You may be saying that this does not apply to you because you aren’t flying for an airline or corporation, but, in a way you are. When you are operating your own airplane, you are operating
as your own flight department. Just think of the operational safety enhancement that you can bring to your own flying by doing it on a more professional level.
Why do flight departments have a standardization process? They have a standardization process primarily to ensure that their operations and procedures are consistent regardless of the pilot, airplane or situation. It ensures that many of the tough and unique decisions have been thought about and dealt with prior to experiencing them. It lays out a standard protocol to ensure that
the pilot and or the aircraft are not put in a position outside of their capabilities. It also ensures that regardless of the time of day, month or year, the skills and capabilities of the pilot have not diminished. Several pilots over the years who have taken this advice and own their own aircraft have also reported discounts on their aircraft owner’s insurance.