Safety is maximized when there is good crew coordination and the flight crew works together effectively as a team. This briefing note discusses the important role of normal checklists in facilitating crew coordination and includes:
- The scope and use of normal checklists
- The factors and conditions that may affect the correct flow and timely completion of normal checklists.
Strict adherence to standard operating procedures (Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)) can eliminate or at least mitigate the adverse effects of various operational factors and human errors that can lead to incidents and accidents. The unfailing and correct use of normal checklists is an important SOP and an essential part of good flight crew discipline.
Every flight crew should appreciate the importance of normal checklists and crew coordination.
Omission of a required action or performance of an inappropriate action are primary causal factors in approach and landing accidents, and are cited (Flight Safety Foundation, 1998-1999) as causal factors in:
- 45 percent of fatal approach and landing accidents
- 70 percent of all approach and landing accidents
Role of Normal Checklists
Normal checklists enhance flight safety by providing an opportunity to confirm that the safety critical aspects of the systems and aircraft configuration are correctly set. By following normal checklists, any mistakes in settings will be identified and corrected before they can cause a safety problem.
Normal checklist actions, as with all SOPs, are intended to check or verify actions that were accomplished from memory. A defined flow pattern should be employed for each cockpit panel. Safety-critical points (primarily items related to aircraft configuration) should be cross-checked through the use of normal checklists.
Normal checklists are not read-and-do lists but, rather, are intended to be accomplished after performing the flow of actions defined in the SOPs. Their purpose is to verify that all required steps were performed from memory by the flight crew.
The timely and effective completion of normal checklists is essential for safe operation during all flight phases, but particularly for takeoff and during approach and landing.
In order to be used effectively, normal checklists must be initiated, conducted and completed in accordance with established crew coordination SOPs.
Initiating normal checklists
The application of a normal checklist should be initiated (called for or requested) by the pilot flying (PF) and then read by the non-flying pilot.
The non-flying pilot has a dual role as pilot not flying (PNF) and pilot monitoring (PM). Some manufacturers and operators use PNF to denote the pilot not flying, while others prefer to use PM. In either case, the meaning is the same (See the briefing note titled Adherence to Standard Operating Procedures for more information.)
If the PF fails to initiate a normal checklist, good crew resource management (CRM) practice dictates that the PNF should compensate by suggesting the initiation of the checklist.
Normal checklists should be called in a timely manner during low-workload periods (conditions permitting) to prevent any undue time pressure or possible interruption that could defeat the purpose of the checklist and potentially be detrimental to safety.
Time and workload management, including the availability of the other pilot to participate, are key factors in the initiation and effective conduct of normal checklists.
Conducting normal checklists
Normal checklists are based on the challenge-and-response concept.
Critical items require a response by the PF. Some less-critical items may be both challenged and responded to by the PNF alone.
To enhance communication and understanding between crewmembers, the following standard rules and phraseology should always be used when conducting normal checklists:
- The challenged crewmember should respond only after checking the required configuration and correcting any deviations from the correct settings
- If achieving the required configuration is not possible, the challenged crewmember should clearly and completely respond by stating the actual configuration
- The challenging crewmember should always wait for a definitive response (and should cross-check the validity of the response, as required) before moving to the next item
- The PNF should mark the completion of the checklist by loudly calling, “(Checklist name) checklist complete.”
Note: Some normal checklists include a line that defines a logical hold point to allow partial completion of the checklist. The crew can complete the checklist down to that line and then pause until further action is appropriate and the remaining checklist items can be meaningfully completed.
Some aircraft models feature electronic displays of normal checklists that use color coding or other graphic treatments to provide a positive identification of items…
- Already completed
- Currently being (or to be) addressed
- Still to be performed
Interrupting and resuming normal checklists
If the flow of a normal checklist must be interrupted for any reason (including a built-in hold point), the PF should announce a formal and explicit hold such as, “Hold (stop) checklist at (item).”
An explicit call such as, “Resume (continue) checklist at (item),” should be made before the checklist is resumed.
Upon resuming the normal checklist after an interruption, the last completed item before the hold point should be repeated. The repetition of this single item helps prevent the inadvertent omission of the next item on the checklist when it is resumed.
The disciplined use of SOPs, including normal checklists, should be emphasized during transition training because it promotes effective crew coordination. Habits and routines acquired during transition training have been shown to be enduring.
Transition and recurrent training also provide a unique opportunity to discuss the need for crew coordination, the reasons for the rules and procedures, and the consequences of failing to comply with them.
Conversely, permitting trainees to be lax in their adherence to SOPs and use of normal checklists during transition or recurrent simulator training can create bad habits and may promote poor and dangerous crew coordination during line operations.
Line checks and line audits should reinforce strict adherence to SOPs and normal checklists and emphasize the importance of effective crew coordination for flight safety.
Operational and Human Factors Affecting the Use of Normal Checklists
To ensure effective compliance with published normal checklists, it is important to understand why pilots sometimes completely omit a normal checklist or do not complete all the items.
The omission of a normal checklist is rarely intentional. Rather, this type of dangerous deviation from adherence to SOPs is often the result of a disruption of the normal flow of cockpit activities caused by operational circumstances.
The following factors and conditions are often cited as causing a failure to initiate or complete a normal checklist:
- Unusual or out-of-phase flight timing that can occur whenever a factor such as an unexpected tailwind or a system malfunction modifies the time scale of the approach or the time of occurrence of the trigger event for the initiation of the normal checklist
- Distractions, such as from other flight deck activities
- Interruptions, such as from pilot-controller communications
- Task saturation, including inadequate multi-tasking ability or task overload
- Incorrect management of priorities, often because of the absence of a decision-making model for time-critical situations
- Reduced attention (tunnel vision), such as in abnormal or high-workload conditions
- Incorrect CRM techniques, including the absence of effective cross-check, poor crew coordination or no crew backup
- Overreliance on memory (overconfidence)
- Ineffective checklist design, including inadequate or incorrect content, poorly defined task sharing and/or confusing or obscure formatting
- Poor habits formed during transition or recurrent training or as a byproduct of ineffective line checks because of insufficient emphasis on strict adherence to normal checklists
Normal checklists are of vital safety importance because they promote effective and efficient crew coordination and cross-checking.
The judicious and timely initiation and completion of normal checklists is a highly effective means of preventing the omission of needed actions or the performance of inappropriate steps.
Explicit standard calls should be defined in the SOPs for the interruption (hold) and resumption (continuation) of a normal checklist to address the situation of an intended pause or an interruption such as might be caused by a distraction.
The disciplined use of normal checklists should be:
- Highlighted at all stages of training — initial, transition and line training
- Enforced at every opportunity, including during all checks and audits performed as part of line operations.
Associated OGHFA Material
Additional Reading Material and Website References
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Annex 6, Operation of Aircraft; Part I, International Commercial Air Transport — Aeroplanes, 4.2.5, 6.1.3 and Appendix 2, 5.10.
- ICAO. Procedures for Air Navigation Services - Aircraft Operations (PANS-OPS, Doc 8168); Volume I, Flight Procedures (Post Amendment No 11, applicable Nov. 1,2001).
- ICAO. Preparation of an Operations Manual (Doc 9376).
- ICAO. Human Factors Training Manual (Doc 9683).
- U.S. Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 121.315, Instrument and Equipment Requirement; Cockpit Check Procedure (for normal and non-normal conditions).
- Joint Aviation Requirements — Operations (JAR-OPS) 1.1045; and Appendix 1, Operations Manuals — Structure and Contents.
Related SKYbrary Articles