Aeronautical Randomness
The hypocritical briefing
December 2, 2015
(Photo by RAF-YYC from Calgary, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to two pilots flying together for the first time, the captain briefs the first officer.  A thorough initial briefing covers some required items and sets the overall tone for the entire trip.

As I scrambled to complete the pre-flight duties, the captain began his briefing:

“You’ll find I’m a pretty laid back, common sense kind of guy.  I try to do everything by the S.O.P. (standard operating procedure).  So, if you see me doing something wrong, I’m doing it unintentionally and want you to bring it to my attention.  I have pretty thick skin… you can’t offend me.”

If you’ve never been part of a two person crew, you’re probably thinking that sounded great.

Not so much.

Do you want to know what’s wrong with it?

Have you ever met someone who boasts that they are a “nice person?”  People who need to verbalize their niceness are usually compensating for some personality flaw.  If you are truly a nice person, just BE nice.  It will be easy for the rest of us to draw the same conclusion.

The same applies to pilots who feel the need to stress they are “laid back” as one of their briefing talking points.  Just BE laid back and we will notice.  It is my experience that those who claim to be “laid back” are some of the most tightly wound aviators in the sky.

However, that’s just the beginning of my objections to this captain’s brief.

A few minutes later, he arrived at the portion of the brief we cover before every flight.  The pilot flying that leg, in addition to several other items, is required to brief the single engine takeoff profile for the departure runway.

“If we lose an engine, we will continue straight ahead until 1.8 DME (distance) and then turn right to 250 (degrees).”

“Actually, I think it’s straight out.  I didn’t see a procedure for that runway,” I said since I had already looked at the performance printout.  If there was a “special” procedure, it would have been listed at the bottom of the paper.  Otherwise, we’re expected to track the runway center-line until 1,500′.

“That’s the way it has always been here and I have not seen anything saying it has changed,” he countered in a not-so-laid-back tone.  He also mentioned that if this long-standing local procedure had changed, he should have received an email.

I held up the performance sheet and showed him the blank space where his briefed procedure would have been displayed.

“For twenty eight years we’ve done it that way… If it worked that long, it will still work for today.”  He wanted to press on with his plan because he was a common sense kind of guy.

I am 99.99% certain that the procedure he briefed was safe, but it wasn’t correct.  I never want to intentionally put myself in a position to be grilled by a member of our legal system.  My mind races ahead months into the future as I imagine a lawyer demanding to know why I did not follow the proper procedure.

I mentioned that since we changed to Sabre for our planning, a lot of things have changed.  I advocated that it was in everyone’s best interest to fly straight-out if we lost an engine.  With a hint of annoyance in my voice, I said, “THIS is controlling” as I dropped the performance sheet back onto the center console.

He begrudgingly agreed.

So, we had a disagreement and resolved it.  No big deal.

But, do you remember his brief?

If I saw ANYTHING he wasn’t doing correctly, I was instructed to point it out.  When an opportunity immediately presented itself for me to speak up, Mr. Thick Skin became annoyed and agitated.

It continued on like that for four days.

Long before I started in this business, the captain was the supreme boss and the first and second officers didn’t question much of anything.  It started to change when a captain outside of Portland, Oregon ran out of fuel and crashed in 1978.  The other crew members were afraid to speak up.  The industry started to encourage crews to work together and communicate more effectively.  Thus, Crew (formerly Cockpit) Resource Management was born.

We’ve been inundated with CRM training for years.  When I started at my airline in 1999, I attended a three day course that focused solely on CRM.  Overall, I think these courses are beneficial.  However, I’m starting to realize one downside: the unwilling participant.

An open minded pilot attends a CRM course and obtains tips and tools to help him or her be a more effective communicator.  Good leaders become even better with this type of training.  They solicit the input of the entire crew and make sound decisions based on all available resources.  Great crew members become more concerned with WHAT is right rather than WHO is right.

However, some have completely rejected the concept, but know they can no longer “get away” with being a single-pilot show.

So, they pick up bits and pieces of useful catch phrases from CRM and think they’re fooling other pilots.

They say things like, “You’ll find I’m a pretty laid back, common sense kind of guy.  I try to do everything by the S.O.P.  So, if you see me doing something wrong, I’m doing it unintentionally and want you to bring it to my attention.  I have pretty thick skin… you can’t offend me.”

They verbalize it, but they don’t embrace it.  They don’t fool, they frustrate.

Seems a bit hypocritical to me.

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About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

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There are 2 comments

  • Brad Tate says:

    Hysterical. I’ve been there so many times. I know I’m in trouble when a guy feels compelled to tell me that he’s “standard” and “laid back.”

    • John says:

      I love “yeah I follow the sops just not the stupid ones.”

      I personally enjoy a captain who opens up with how hard we are gonna go at the bar that night then talks about interracial cowboy gangbang porn. That’s my guy.

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