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Flight Preparation and Conducting Effective Briefings (OGHFA BN)

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Article Information
Category: Human Factors Human Factors
Content source: Flight Safety Foundation Flight Safety Foundation
Operator's Guide to Human Factors in Aviation
Personal Qualities
Flight Preparation and Conducting Effective Briefings

Briefing Note

1 Background

This briefing note illustrates the importance of flight preparation and discusses the details of conducting effective briefings. It provides an outline of how to structure and conduct effective preflight briefings. The focus is not only on briefings between the pilots but also on including the entire crew in order to promote synergy.

This briefing note is not intended to modify or supersede a company’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for flight preparation. This information represents a minimum that should be covered for proper flight preparation.

2 Introduction

Flight preparation is part of the transition from normal life to the highly dynamic environment of flight. Briefings are an essential part of flight preparation and represent a critical moment for team building, leadership establishment and an opportunity to gather and select all operational data pertinent to the upcoming flight.

In-depth takeoff, cruise and approach/go-around briefings should be conducted before each flight to ensure understanding among crewmembers and the effective application of crew resource management (CRM). A thorough briefing should be conducted regardless of how familiar the crewmembers are with the flight plan and each other. This is one of the most critical moments for developing crew synergy because vital and often irreversible decisions are made (e.g., dispatch fuel quantity, loading, deicing, routing). By the end of the flight-preparation phase, the crew should have a shared mental model of the flight plan and possible problems that might arise in normal operations. Also, the crew should agree upon procedures to be used in case of unexpected events that might disrupt the normal pattern of flight operations.

3 Data

Many aviation incidents and accidents can be linked in some way to flaws in flight preparation. The quality of approach and go-around briefings has been determined to be a causal factor in approximately 50 percent of approach and landing accidents (Flight Safety Foundation, 1998-1999). Most of the incidents and accidents related to poor flight preparation are due to:

  • Lack of understanding of prevailing conditions
  • Loss of horizontal or vertical situational awareness
  • Poor crew coordination

4 Briefings Overview

Briefings should help both the pilot flying (PF) and the pilot not flying (PNF) understand the desired sequence of events and actions, as well as the condition of the aircraft and any special hazards or circumstances involved in the planned flight sequence. To achieve the safety and efficiency benefits of good flight preparation, all crewmembers should strive for high-quality briefings.

4.1 Objectives of briefings

When conducting any briefing, the following objectives should be met:

  • Define and communicate action plans and expectations under normal and abnormal conditions
  • Confirm applicable task sharing (i.e., crewmembers’ roles and responsibilities)
  • Brief each subject area to its appropriate level of detail
  • Promote questioning and feedback
  • Ensure full understanding and agreement on the correct sequence of actions
  • Communicate objectives to other crewmembers (cabin crew) and develop synergy
  • Enhance the preparedness of the flight crew and cabin crew for facing unusual requirements or responding to unexpected conditions

The quality of the flight crew/cabin crew and flight crew takeoff and approach briefings shapes crew performance throughout the flight. Preflight briefings should start at the dispatch office when the dispatcher gives the flight plan to the flight crew for review and the crew’s final decision on the route, cruise flight level and fuel quantity.

The on-board crew formation briefing and the flight crew takeoff and approach briefings should include the following:

  • Crew familiarization with the departure and arrival airports and routes
  • The maintenance state of the aircraft (e.g., inoperative items, recent repairs)
  • Fatigue state of crewmembers (e.g., short-haul/multi-sector operations)
  • Takeoff, departure, approach and landing conditions (e.g., weather, runway conditions, special hazards)
  • Lateral and vertical navigation, including intended use of automation
  • Communications
  • Status of cabin from the cabin crew
  • Status of abnormal procedures as applicable (e.g., rejected takeoff, diversion, missed approach/go-around)
  • Review and discussion of takeoff and departure hazards

4.2 Timeliness of briefings

Briefings should be conducted during low-workload periods. The takeoff briefing should be conducted while the aircraft is at the gate or other parking position.

The descent preparation and the approach and go-around briefings should typically be completed 10 minutes before reaching the top-of-descent to prevent increasing workload and rushing the descent preparations.

4.3 Techniques for conducting effective briefings

The importance of briefing technique is often underestimated. The style and tone of a briefing play an important role in its effectiveness. Interactive briefings (e.g., confirming agreement and understanding by the PNF after each phase of the briefing) are more effective and productive than an uninterrupted lecture from the PF followed by: “Any questions?” Interactive briefings provide the PF and PNF with an opportunity to communicate and to check and correct each other as necessary (e.g., confirming the use of the correct departure and approach charts, confirming the correct setup of navaids for the assigned takeoff and landing runways).

The briefing itself should be based on the logical sequence of flight phases. It is important, however, to avoid the routine and formal repetition of the same points on each sector, which often becomes counterproductive because it involves no new thinking or problem solving. For example, adapting and expanding a briefing by highlighting the special aspects of an airport, the departure or approach procedure, or the prevailing weather conditions and circumstances usually result in a more lively and effective briefing.

Briefings should be conducted by speaking face-to-face, while remaining alert and vigilant in the monitoring of the aircraft and flight progress. The briefing technique of the PF should encourage effective listening to attract the PNF’s attention. The briefing should therefore be conducted when the workload of the PNF is low enough to permit effective communication.

Whether anticipated or not, a significant change in an air traffic control (ATC) clearance, weather conditions, landing runway or aircraft condition requires a crew to review relevant parts of previously completed briefings. A re-briefing is almost always beneficial under these circumstances.

5 Takeoff Briefing

The takeoff briefing is conducted by the pilot designated as PF for the particular flight leg. It enables the PF to inform the PNF of the planned course of actions (e.g., expectations, roles and responsibilities, unique requirements) for both normal and abnormal conditions during takeoff. A full takeoff briefing should be conducted during the first sector of the day. Subsequent briefings should be limited to the specific aspects of each individual airport/runway/takeoff/departure condition. The takeoff briefing should be guided and illustrated by referring to the applicable flight management system (FMS) pages, the paper or electronic charts and the navigation display to visualize the departure route and confirm the various data entries. Some of the important topics to review in a takeoff briefing are discussed below. The important point is that a takeoff briefing must be comprehensive and based on complete situational awareness gained from the available documentation and data.

5.1 ATIS

The automatic terminal information service (ATIS) is a recorded message broadcast at major airports. It provides flight crews with up-to-date information on weather, runway in use and other operational information. The ATIS message is updated whenever the situation changes significantly, with the new version designated by the next letter of the alphabet.

All pilots approaching the airport are required to monitor the ATIS and review the message, including:

  • Expected takeoff runway in use and standard instrument departure (SID)
  • Altimeter (QNH or QFE)
  • Transition altitude (if variable with QNH)
  • Weather, temperature and dew point
  • Wind and runway condition
  • Unusual airport conditions (e.g., closed taxiways, presence of work crews)

5.2 NOTAMs

Notices to airmen (NOTAMs) provide crews with critical information that may have a direct effect on flight safety (e.g., unserviceable navaids, change of departure routing, airspace restrictions, work in progress on taxiways and/or runways, obstructions, man-made obstacles, volcanic activity). NOTAM coverage can be national, regional, specific to one route or specific to a given airport. NOTAMs generally do not include detailed explanations and graphics. As a result, interpretation of a NOTAM can sometimes be difficult. Each pilot should therefore review applicable takeoff and departure NOTAMs and discuss their possible impacts on operations with fellow crewmembers. If there is any doubt about the contents or interpretation of a NOTAM, pilots should contact the company dispatch office for clarification.

5.3 Weather

It is important to discuss the effects of prevailing weather conditions on takeoff and departure procedures (e.g., use of weather radar for suspected wind shear, requirement for an alternate runway, use of engine and wing anti-ice). Use information from the weather briefing conducted by your dispatcher and from the latest ATIS. Not only is this important for safety reasons but also because being fully aware of the weather conditions will allow you to respond effectively to any questioning from passengers or cabin crew if the flight is delayed or cancelled.

For long-range flights, pilots need to understand that weather forecasts are derived from mathematical and statistical models that are not always accurate. Crews must use their knowledge and experience of the local peculiarities in the weather patterns and brief each other concerning potential problems that the forecast may not highlight. For example, mountainous areas or shorelines may generate sudden changes in ceiling, visibility or winds, and all crewmembers need to have an accurate understanding of the probability of such events.

Special care needs to be taken when deciphering the full meaning of a weather-related message. Crewmembers often focus on a single aspect of the weather forecast and miss other important information (e.g., focusing on fluctuating visibility and missing crosswind information). In order to enhance situational awareness, crews should go through each item of the forecast and discuss its implications for flight.

5.4 Dispatch conditions affecting takeoff performance

Review and discuss anything that affects takeoff performance (e.g., takeoff weight or speeds) or fuel consumption to make sure that dispatch conditions are compatible with the upcoming flight. Pay close attention to combinations of conditions, particularly multiple inoperative items, that together may produce an unacceptable situation.

It is important to examine entries in the technical log book as part of the formal dialogue between maintenance and flight crews. Any malfunctioning item reported by a flight crew should be accompanied by an appropriate answer from the maintenance team. Effective cooperation and reciprocal confidence between maintenance and flight deck personnel are essential for safety.

The answer to a crew remark can be either a summary of the work done to fix the problem or a transfer of the item to the minimum equipment list (MEL) or configuration deviation list (CDL). Flight crewmembers should consider any maintenance response as an alert and either focus their attention during the walk-around inspection to the area where the work occurred or prompt in-depth consideration of the airworthiness of the aircraft with the particular item missing or inoperative.

Any entry in the MEL or CDL should trigger an allowance of time to replace or repair the item. Pressure is often put on (or felt by) the flight crew to defer making a log entry in order to avoid costly maintenance actions or the grounding of the aircraft. Pilots should never yield to this pressure because it could lead to serious safety issues.

Efforts have been made to increase the reliability of a signed “release for service.” Nevertheless, direct exchanges between maintenance staff and flight crewmembers are still the best way to ensure awareness of the state of the aircraft for the planned mission.

5.5 Takeoff performance limitations

Review and discuss prevailing takeoff performance limitations (e.g., runway, second segment climb, obstacles) as well as any specific takeoff performance limitations (e.g., minimum climb gradient during a SID, nonstandard turn).

5.6 Weight and balance data, load sheet reviewV.6

Review the weight and balance data — either preliminary data from the flight plan or final Load and Trim Sheet — with appropriate crewmembers and apply the specifications in the aircraft manual. Pilots must understand when it is necessary to rearrange passengers or cargo to bring the aircraft into conformance with specifications and maintain balance.

5.7 Runway condition and wind

Confirm the expected takeoff runway, the runway condition and wind component. This is a basic step, but it is common for runway conditions to change, and the crew must be ready to respond to any unexpected events. Make specific plans to verify that the aircraft is on the correct runway before applying takeoff power.

5.8 Takeoff data

Confirm the computed takeoff data for the prevailing conditions including:

  • Slats/flaps configuration
  • V-speeds (i.e., V1, VR, V2 - F, S, Green Dot speeds or V3, V4, VFTO)
  • Thrust setting (i.e., use of takeoff thrust or reduced/derated thrust)
  • Bleed-air configuration for takeoff (i.e., air-conditioning packs, engine anti-ice, wing anti-ice)

5.9 Noise abatement procedureV.9

Review and discuss the applicable noise-abatement procedure, particularly if the noise abatement procedure is not standard or is not programmed in the FMS.

5.10 Departure route

Review and discuss the following elements by referencing the FMS control display unit, navigation display, autopilot/autothrust control panel and chart:

  • First cleared altitude (if departure clearance is available)
  • Transition altitude
  • Routing (i.e., speed and/or altitude constraints, airspace restrictions, terrain/minimum safe altitude)
  • Specific procedures in case of loss of communication
  • Special procedures or considerations

5.11 Navaids setup — use of automation

Set navaids as required to fly and/or cross-check the correct tracking of the SID.

5.12 Rejected takeoff briefing

Include considerations for a rejected takeoff (RTO), including:

  • Stop or go decision
  • Stop actions
  • Go actions

5.13 Fuel policy

Discuss the fuel on board. This is often the final point of the takeoff briefing. Many factors such as weather, estimated load, NOTAMs, local cost of fuel and company policies have to be taken into account and discussed as part of this final step of the briefing.

6 Taxi to Active Runway Briefings

The taxi phase is a critical one and should be carefully briefed. Use the following guidelines as an outline for effective taxi briefings:

  • Perform a review of the expected taxi routes using the airport chart with special attention to “hot spots” such as intersections where the risk of confusion and the resulting risk of a taxiway or runway incursion may exist.
  • Plan the execution of checks and actions to be performed during taxi in order to prevent distraction by cockpit duties when approaching hot spots. Pay particular attention to temporary situations such as work in progress, other unusual activity and recent changes in airport layout.
  • Refer again to the airport diagram when taxi instructions are received from ATC. The PF and PNF should agree on the assigned runway and taxi route, including instructions to hold short of or cross an intersecting runway and verbally confirm their agreement. The expectations established during the takeoff briefing can be significantly altered with a different and unexpected taxi clearance. Pilots should be prepared to follow the clearance actually received, not the clearance expected.
  • Discuss low-visibility taxi procedures and routes (if published and applicable to the particular flight) and the characteristics of the airport surface movements guidance and control system (SMGCS).
  • Discuss any intended deviation from SOPs or from standard calls.
  • Confirm the elements of the detailed takeoff briefing for possible changes (e.g., runway change, intersection takeoff, runway condition change, revised departure clearance).
  • Confirm the takeoff data or modify the aircraft configuration (flaps and bleed air), thrust setting and the FMS/autopilot setup, as required.

7 Cruise Briefing(s)

One or more cruise briefings are recommended if the duration of the cruise phase is sufficient and pilot workload is not unusually high. A structured cruise briefing or repeated cruise briefings should cover:

  • Strategy in case of engine failure (e.g., speed strategy depending on obstacles and extended operations (ETOPS) or non-ETOPS nature of flight, preferred diversion airfield depending on aircraft position)
  • Strategy in case of cabin depressurization (e.g., speed strategy and descent profile)

8 Approach Briefing

No matter how many times pilots have performed a particular approach and landing, it is vitally important to conduct an effective approach briefing. FMS pages should be used to guide and illustrate the briefing and to confirm the various data entries. The items to be considered for an approach briefing are listed below.

8.1 Aircraft status

Review the aircraft status, (e.g., inoperative items, any failure or malfunction experienced during the flight) and discuss the possible consequences in terms of operation and performance (e.g., final approach speed and landing distance).

8.2 Fuel status

Review the fuel status by examining:

  • Fuel on board
  • Minimum diversion fuel
  • Available holding fuel and time

8.3 ATIS

Review and discuss the following ATIS information:

  • Runway in use (type of approach)
  • Expected arrival route (standard terminal arrival [STAR] or radar vectors)
  • Altimeter setting (QNH or QFE) and the applicable altimeter setting unit (hectopascals or inches of mercury)
  • Transition level (either provided by ATIS or the standard transition levels used in the country or for the airport)
  • Terminal weather (e.g., icing conditions, turbulence, suspected low-level wind shear, ceiling, visibility and runway visual range (RVR))
  • Advisory messages (as applicable)

8.4 NOTAMs

Review and discuss enroute and terminal NOTAMs for possible operational impact (e.g., unserviceable navaids, airspace restriction, obstructions) or additional threats or hazards. If there is any doubt about the contents or interpretation of a NOTAM, contact the company for confirmation.

8.5 Top-of-descent point

Confirm or adjust the top-of-descent (TOD) point computed by the FMS as a function of the expected arrival following the published STAR or expected radar vectors. Be aware of the resulting track distance between the TOD point and the runway threshold.

8.6 Approach chart

Review and discuss the following items relating to the approach chart and the FMS/navigation display (ND):

  • Designated runway
  • Approach type
  • Task assignments (confirm the designated PF for the approach based on company policy for the type of approach to be flown)
  • Chart index number and date
  • Minimum safe altitude (MSA) — reference point, sectors and minimum sector safe altitudes
  • Let-down navaid(s), type, frequency and identifier (confirm the correct setup of navaids)
  • Radio frequencies (discuss special procedures in case of loss of communications, as applicable)
  • Airport elevation
  • Approach transitions (initial approach fix (IAF), intermediate fix (IF), other fixes, holding pattern, altitude and speed constraints/restrictions, required navaids setup)
  • Final approach course (and lead-in radial, as applicable)
  • Terrain features (location and elevation of hazardous terrain or man-made obstacles, even if they are below the minimum descent altitude (MDA/H))
  • Approach profile view, including crossing altitudes and DME distances, as applicable, including:
    • Final approach fix (FAF)
    • Final descent point (if different from FAF)
    • Outer marker (OM), as applicable
    • Visual descent point (VDP), if indicated on approach profile or computed by the flight crew
    • Missed approach point (MAP)
    • Typical vertical speed for the expected final approach groundspeed
    • Touchdown zone elevation (TDZE)
  • Missed approach, including:
    • Lateral and vertical navigation, particularly the initial lateral and vertical maneuvers
    • Speed restrictions
    • Obstacles
  • Visibility and RVR minimums (and ceiling, if applicable)
  • Descent and decision minimums
    • MDA(H) for nonprecision approaches
    • Barometric DA(H) for CAT I ILS approaches
    • Radio altimeter DH for CAT II and CAT III ILS approaches
  • Local airport requirement (e.g., noise restrictions on the use of thrust reversers)
  • Any hazards or possible sources of visual confusion (e.g., lights on the ground in the approach path) shown on the chart

8.7 Airport diagram

Review and discuss the following items using the airport chart:

  • Runway length, width and slope
  • Approach end runway lighting, and other expected visual references
  • Specific hazards (as applicable)
  • Intended turnoff taxiway and available alternates

If another airport is located in the close vicinity of the destination airport, relevant details or procedures should be discussed for awareness purposes.

8.8 Use of automation

Discuss the intended use of automation for vertical and lateral guidance and for speed management depending on FMS navigation accuracy (only for aircraft not equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) or if GPS PRIMARY LOST is displayed):

  • Use of FMS vertical navigation and lateral navigation or use of selected vertical modes and lateral modes
  • Step-down approach (if a constant-angle nonprecision approach [CANPA] is not available or not possible)

8.9 Use of aircraft systems

Discuss the use of the following aircraft systems, depending on prevailing conditions:

  • Engine nacelle anti-ice
  • Wing anti-ice
  • Weather radar

8.10 Landing and stopping

Discuss the intended landing flaps configuration (if different from full flaps). Review and discuss the following features of the intended landing runway:

8.11 Taxi to gate

Just as with taxi prior to takeoff, this phase should be considered as a critical phase of flight and be carefully briefed. This briefing can be delayed until after landing. Review and discuss the following items:

  • Anticipated taxiways to the assigned gate, with special emphasis on the possible crossing of, or movement on, active runways
  • Nonstandard lighting or marking of taxiways
  • Possible work in progress on runways and taxiways

8.12 CAT II and CAT III ILS briefing

For CAT II and CAT III ILS approaches, perform the specific briefing in accordance with company SOPs.

8.13 Deviations from SOPs

Any intended deviation from SOPs or from standard calls should be discussed during the briefing.

9 Go-Around Briefing

A detailed go-around briefing should be included in the descent-and-approach briefing, highlighting the key points of the go-around maneuver and missed-approach procedures, and the planned task sharing under normal or abnormal conditions. The go-around briefing should include the following key topics:

  • Go-around callout (i.e., a loud and clear go-around/flaps call)
  • PF and PNF task sharing (e.g., flow of respective actions, including use of the autopilot, speed restrictions, go-around altitude, parameter-excessive-deviation callouts)
  • Intended use of automation (i.e., automatic or manual go-around, use of FMS lateral navigation or use of selected modes for missed approach)
  • Missed approach lateral navigation and vertical profile (e.g., speed limitations, airspace restrictions, potential obstacles, terrain features)
  • Intentions (i.e., second approach or diversion)
    • If a second approach is intended, discuss the type of approach if a different runway or type of approach is planned
    • Confirm the minimum diversion fuel

It is recommended to briefly recap the main points of the go-around and missed approach when established on the final approach course or after completing the landing checklist.

10 Key Points

Conducting effective briefings is an essential part of flight preparation. Without proper preparation, a crew will not have the necessary situational awareness to fly at maximum effectiveness and safety. Briefings are necessary at various points in the flight from before taxiing to the departure runway through taxiing to the arrival gate.

The following summary points apply to all briefings:

  • Briefings should be adapted to the specific conditions of the flight and focus on the items that are relevant for the particular takeoff, departure, cruise or approach and landing.
  • Briefings should be interactive and allow for dialogue between the PF, PNF and other crewmembers.
  • Briefings should be conducted during low-workload periods.
  • Briefings should be conducted even if the crew has completed the same flight many times in the past. Vary the briefing approach or emphasis when on familiar routes to promote thinking and to avoid doing things by habit.
  • Briefings should cover procedures for unexpected events.
  • Pilots should not fixate on one particular aspect of information in a briefing, as other important information may be missed.

11 Associated OGHFA Material

Briefing Notes:

Situational Examples:

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