reducing "Crew-caused"
approach and landing

Pilot-in-charge Monitored Approach

"Defensive Flying"

Much attention is now being given to Threat and Error Management (TEM) or "defensive flying", and maintaining safety margins. A major study (LOSA) of US operations reported recently showed (to no-one's great surprise) that more crew errors are likely to occur during Descent/Approach/Land. In these flight phases over half of these errors were mismanaged, and 75% of them were aircraft handling errors.  As many as 5% of flights actually involved an "unstable" approach - but only 5% of the unstable approaches resulted in the required go-around.

The study concluded showed that crews that develop contingency management plans, such as proactively discussing strategies for anticipated threats, tend to have fewer mismanaged threats; crews that exhibit good monitoring and cross-checking usually commit fewer errors and have fewer mismanaged errors; and finally, crews that exhibit strong leadership, enquiry, and workload management are typically observed to have fewer mismanaged errors and undesired aircraft states than other crews.  

Crews using PicMA as their standard operating procedure tend to have these characteristics built into their operation.  If the co-pilot is responsible for planning and executing the approach and go-around, it is almost inevitable that he or she will have to discuss it and have its details crosschecked.

"Strong, silent" Captains are pushed into being more communicative. The in-charge pilot's overall workload is better managed, and being responsible for communication he or she has the authority directly to influence changes imposed by ATC, accepting or rejecting them as necessary. 

Less Vulnerability in Go-arounds.

An increasing cause of concern is the number of events where the crew have initiated a go-around, but then lost control of the aircraft. Major factors in this appear include a lack of psychological preparedness for such an event ("startle factor") or lack of familiarity with the detailed actions needed to accomplish it successfully.  Such events as the dramatic 2002 excursion of a B757 which pitched over at 450 ft with -.6g into a 50 degree nose-down descent, followed by a +3.6g pull up at 250 kts at 180 ft, were survived, but others like the A330 pitch excursion in 2010 at Tripoli were not.  These accidents have very low survivability.  

The French Accident Investigation Bureau published a major study into this problem in 2013, focusing on the problems of pilot awareness of the aircraft state as it transitions from an approach to a go-around, using 16 events between 1998 and 2010. While concerned with the activities of both crew members, it did not examine the specific issue of crew duty allocations, which were entirely "traditional" PF/PM based.  The study concluded that among other factors, these events were due to

  • Time pressure and a high workload.
  • Inadequate monitoring of primary flight parameters during go-arounds, especially with a startle effect.
  • The difficulty in applying CRM principles in a startle effect situation.
  • Inadequate monitoring by the PNF. 

As the 2013 Eurocontrol/Flight Safety Foundation Go-around Safety Forum noted, "Encouraging pilots to be “go-around minded” is essential for operational safety and an analogy may be drawn with “go-minded” after V1 is passed during take off."  During PicMA, one pilot is specifically responsible for staying on instruments throughout the approach and go-around, and actually expects to perform a go-around. Consequently, adoption of PicMA could have a significant effect on this major issue, and is addressed later under the concept of a "fail-safe" SOP.  

The "visual's easier" trap.

If First Officers know their plan is simply to fly the aircraft on instruments to DH and go around, they are also relieved from the natural pressure to "help" the Captain by looking outside, not just for "required visual references" at DH, but much earlier. It is self-evident that instrument approaches involve more work, physical and mental, than visual approaches. Since the pilot must be visual before landing, most pilots (and air traffic controllers) have an entirely natural tendency to take advantage of fine weather.

Most pilots instinctively have a preference to trust what they can see outside. The basic rule when flying in cloud is "believe the instruments, not the seat of your pants". Similarly, eyes have limitations just like the seat of the pants, and are subject to many well-known illusions. The instruments don't care about the view.

Mixed IFR/VFR operations when visual separation is needed apart, procedures need to ensure that the instruments are the ONLY source of flight path information for one pilot as much as possible. The PM should not be saying "hey, isn't that the runway?" when 20 miles out, and possibly distracting the PF into landing at the wrong airport.  

This situation is also discussed in the context of "transition to visual reference" in poorer weather. The NTSB's 1976 Special Study found that early sight of the ground was a major factor in many accidents, and recommended that sighting calls that led to premature abandonment of instrument approaches should be prohibited.