reducing "Crew-caused"
approach and landing

Pilot-in-charge Monitored Approach

Non-pilots' questions.

This section of the website started by pointing out that when the factors involved in most "crew-caused" approach and landing accidents are outlined to to many NON-pilots, it leads to some simple questions. 

  • If poorly planned or managed approaches are the issue, surely the Captain should concentrate on managing the flight, rather than on just "driving the vehicle"? After all, the Captain of an ocean liner doesn't do the steering!  
  • In poor visibility, why is the Captain relying on the First Officer for hints about whether he can see enough to land? Shouldn't he devote his attention to this critical task, when the F/O is quite capable of flying an approach and going around when necessary?   
  • If many accidents occur when the First Officer is unable to correct mistakes by the Captain, but both can "fly" the aircraft, shouldn't the Captain supervise the First Officer, not the other way round? 

"Monitored approaches" are specifically intended deal with these problems, but most airlines not only don't use them, but have probably never even considered doing so. The reasons for this are not technical or practical ones, but are mostly involved with a cultural attitude, which simply says that "it isn't something that we do" - whoever "we" might be in this context.

These techniques have been specifically recommended by organisations including the NTSB, but might seem to  have been deliberately ignored. In an increasingly litigious and multi-national environment, is that a defensible position?   

Litigation potential 

It is not hard to imagine a situation where passengers, crew, or persons on the ground involved in such an accident might seek massive damages from an airline or manufacturer, on the grounds of their failure to provide to the flight crew with procedures and training which would most likely have prevented the accident. 

So far, court cases around this type of accident are rare, and as far as this author is aware the existence of alternative crew duty allocations has not been raised. This may be simply because both sides involved have been part of the same culture, and their legal advisers were therefore none the wiser.

But if the issue were to be raised, one might anticipate a strong case being made that while the immediate accident causes had been established as failures by the crew members concerned to follow laid down procedures, in the light of readily available information it is evident that the procedures themselves were inadequate.

Responsibility for that lies with the management of the airline, so there is arguably a corporate culpability. In the last few years there have been changes in legislation regarding corporate responsibility in a number of countries including the UK and the USA which might be relevant.  

A reasonable person's view. 

In the UK, a 2007 Act created the criminal offence of corporate manslaughter, with penalties including unlimited fines.  This may be committed when the way an organisation's activities are organised by its senior management leads to a death, if it is a substantial element in a gross breach of a relevant duty of care, falling below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation.

A jury must consider the role of senior managers in the existence of attitudes, policies, systems or accepted practices within the organisation that were likely to have encouraged the failure, or to have produced tolerance of it - in other words, the relevant culture of the organisation. Since this Act was introduced in 2007 there have been 12 convictions (75% of cases to March 2015), in each case with a single victim in an industrial accident.   

In the US, the California Civil Code imposes a general duty of ordinary care, which requires all persons to take reasonable measures to prevent harm to others. This uses the "Rowland factors" for determining the existence of a legal duty of care, such as the foresee-ability of harm to the injured party, the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury suffered, and the policy of preventing future harm, among several others.

Imagine such a law suit after an accident involving monitoring failures by a junior First Officer, inadequate approach preparation by the Captain following accumulated minor problems, and both pilots being head up with inadequate visual reference below Decision Height. How would a jury of "reasonable persons" view an airline that had not advised its pilots to use to use procedures specifically intended to address these problems, because it simply hadn't considered them relevant to its own operations?

Whatever defence an airline might have, and regardless of the actual outcome of any legal proceedings, the reputational damage to an airline in such a case could be catastrophic, especially if it claimed - as most do - that "safety is the highest priority".