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Mitigating Risk for Non Standard Flights

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Category: Loss of Control Loss of Control
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Non Standard Flights are those which, for the operating flight crew and/or their Company, are outside their usual experience.


Overall statistics for Accidents and Serious Incidents show that non revenue flights have a much higher risk of producing an accident or serious incident than the revenue flying which most professional flight crew routinely undertake. A similar, though statistically unproven conclusion may be drawn in respect of revenue flights which are planned to depart from, and return to, the same aerodrome when operated by an airline which predominantly carries out flights from one location to another. A further, also statistically unproven but highly likely, claim is often advanced that airworthiness function flights carried out by flight crew who are not trained and experienced as professional test pilots are also more likely to be involved in an accident or serious incident, often because the procedures documented and accepted by an Aircraft Operator are inadequate.

Two issues which have usually been associated with this increased risk, either singly or together, both relate to the substantially different nature of such flights from a flight crew perspective compared to the routine of normal operations:

  1. An unfamiliar environment with a significantly modified context for standard operating procedures, in particular the possibility in many cases of an absence of the usual en route period of relative inactivity.
  2. The apparent willingness of a minority of flight crew making non-standard flights to apply less than their usual rigour to the use of prevailing standard operating procedures.

Common Types of Non Standard Flight

Whilst any definition of what is non-standard must be made by reference to what is standard for any particular operator, a number of generalised cases can be identified:

  • Positioning or ferry flights (both fully and conditionally released to service)
  • Pleasure, sightseeing or other ‘air experience’ flights
  • Display or ‘exhibition’ flying for the benefit of persons on the ground
  • Air-to-air photography
  • Airworthiness function or check flights after maintenance input or in association with aircraft acceptance or hand back
  • Flights to develop operator-specific visual approach/departure procedures
  • Flights undertaken specifically and solely for crew training or familiarisation purposes
  • An exceptional freight-only flight made by an operator which does not normally undertake such flights
  • Airworthiness certification flights (unless flown by trained test pilots following their main occupation)

Increased Risks & Examples

Loss of Control

  • B737, en-route, west of Norwich UK 2009 (LOC HF AW): On 12 January 2009, a B737 operated by easyJet, overhead Norwich UK, experienced a loss of control during functional checks of the flying controls. A successful recovery was achieved following significant loss of height.
  • A320, vicinity Perpignan France, 2008 (LOC HF AW): On 27 November 2008, an A320 operated by XL Airways Germany, crashed into the sea at Canet Plage, France, following loss of control, without recovery, during a low speed handling test attempted at low altitude as part of a function flight.


  • Air New Zealand DC10 crash Mount Erebus 1979

Loss of Separation

Opportunities to Mitigate the Risk

There are a range of ways in which the particular risk associated with non standard flights can be restored to the level which applies to whatever a ‘standard’ flight for an operator and/or the crew involved is. Not all will necessarily apply to an individual case but many probably will.

  • The Company Operations Manual should include a definition of non standard flights appropriate to the normal business of the Operator. This should state that all standard operating procedures will apply unless specifically suspended, or supplemented, by a specific instruction.
  • A Flight Operations Risk Assessment specific to generic task should have been carried out and remain valid prior to any non standard flight being operated. All persons involved in the preparation for or operation of any flight covered by such a specific generic risk assessment should be required to work to its assumptions on all points of detail. All points of significant detail should be cross checked by a qualified person. The two pilots conducting the flight crew constitute that capability but a similar ‘control’ should be present in respect of critical aspects of pre-flight planning other than those carried out by the flight crew.
  • For each type of non standard flight which a crew may be asked to operate (except positioning flights with no non-standard tasks requested and made by aircraft released to service in such a way that a normal revenue flight could have been operated):
    • the Operations Manual should contain a generic but comprehensive supplementary brief which covers the performance of each type of non standard flight.
    • if the check schedule requires operation of intentionally degraded aircraft systems then a task-specific programme of initial and recurrent training should be mandated.
    • flight crew allocated to operate all other flights defined as non standard should be required to fly a similar detail in a simulator not later than their most recent simulator proficiency check
    • appropriate additional time should be rostered for pre-flight briefing for all those persons who will occupy flight deck seats prior to the commencement of a non standard flight.
    • the role of any persons to be carried in the aircraft cabin but who will have access to the flight deck during the flight should be defined in writing and form part of the overall procedures for the conduct of the particular type of fight.
    • supplementary or amended checklists should be provided if the flight sequence will not follow that covered by sole use of the normal checklists and/or non-normal but pre-planned supplementary tasks will be expected of the flight crew; the use of these checklists should form part of the simulator training detail.

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