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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Flight Instructors' Responsibility

T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

KNOWING WHEN TO SAY WHEN


This will be a really short article. It's about being an instructor pilot and the responsibilities that go along with it. Let me cut to the chase: No matter what, when an instructor is flying with a student the instructor will always be responsible. No matter what the student does, no matter how good or bad the student is, no matter what, the instructor will always be responsible.

Tom's photo on Midway Island

Excepting for flat-out criminal activity, I cannot imagine a situation in which a student should be held responsible for anything when there's an instructor assigned. Someone might say, "The instructor might not be at the controls." To which I'll say, "Why was he not at the controls?" Or, "The student did something totally unexpected and unforeseen." To which I'll say, "Was the instructor asleep at the wheel?" Perhaps the excuse might be, "The student is someone of some reputation and correcting them might cause some loss of stature." This leads me to wonder: does the owner of the aircraft care about the student's stature more than keeping his aircraft safe?

There is no excuse for the instructor. Ultimately, the only choice the instructor has is whether he's there doing his instructional duties or he's declined the responsibility and not there, i.e., not present on the flight. There are no other options.

There are lots of techniques associated with being an instructor pilot. But, all those techniques take a backseat to the ultimate instructor responsibility: keep things safe during instruction. There is no higher calling in flight instruction. There is no higher purpose. There is nothing else.

I'm wondering aloud if any of you have good instructor stories. I'm talking about stories where you were confronted with keeping things safe or pursuing other objectives. Here's one of mine:


I was an instructor in the F-15 when a major public event was about to occur at our base. There was a particularly distinguished and historically aggressive aviator who had flown with us before, but his best flying days were years behind. I was asked if I wanted to be this person's instructor pilot during the approaching event. There were obvious professional benefits to flying with the guy. But, when I was asked all I could think about was...

"How could I take control of the aircraft away from one of the most famous aviators in history and survive professionally?" I figured if a dangerous situation developed in public during which I had to take control, after landing it would turn into a "he said, she said" situation, meaning my credibility as an instructor would be weighed against this legend. I figured either a) nothing would happen (not 100% likely), b) I took control of the jet at the approach of the dangerous situation, after which I would be second guessed for the rest of my career, or c) I could just "ride it in" and hope for the best. I didn't like these choices and, knowing the reputation of this person, I decided to decline.

Someone else flew with this Distinguished Visitor. Of course, nothing happened. That makes me glad because I know it was just a matter of chance whether something would happen or not.

Which brings me back to the role of the instructor. It doesn't matter whether it's chance, circumstances, sunspots, or the Lochness monster, instructors will always bear the burden of keeping their flights safe.


Cheers
Tom

www.tom-hill.biz


Tom, Thanks for the great article. This is a fascinating subject. In the commercial airline world, all pilots on the plane are responsible for the safety of the flight. The check airman has a bit more weight on his shoulders when he is observing a student. But the student is qualified to fly the plane, or they would not be sitting in the seat. 

We would love to hear your instructing story, and how you dealt with it. Also... what would you have done in Tom's scenario if you were faced with this situation? This brings up an interesting concept... and perhaps another discussion on the pressures to going for the ride. 

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene

12 comments:

  1. My approach was always that it was the student's job to try to kill the instructor, and the instructor's job to be sure that didn't happen. That from the instructor perspective, of course.
    It's the instructor's plane, and he let's the student fly it, always mindful of ways the student will find to kill them both.
    Students will find ways to do unexpected things, and do them quickly, even thinking that they were doing what they were supposed to.

    I also found it useful to make the student 'think out loud' to me. Instead of just watching the show, I wanted to know what he/she was thinking "Do you think you're high, low, or just right?" "how's our energy picture?" "talk me through how you're evaluating your own approach"

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    1. Bill, that's a great way to teach. Funny story. I flew a trip where the FO talked out loud "everything" we was doing on the way to BOM. "I'm going to go use open descent." "I'm going to pull the speed brakes out." Etc. On the leg back to AMS (my leg) the Captain said, "Just fly your plane. You don't need to tell me what you're doing." I smiled, because at the time listening to the guy fly, I was sitting in the jumpseat thinking, he must have just come off training.
      I like that philosophy... pretend they are going to kill you. Once in awhile I think that too.
      Thanks for your comment!

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  2. I like your way of looking at things. I particularly like your technique of having the student verbalize what he's thinking. I found when anyone gets more task saturated and overwhelmed, the first thing to go is their ability to verbally communicate.

    Cheers

    Tom

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    1. This is so true. If they can't verbalize it, they usually can't do it either.

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  3. This applies to any airplane and any flight. In a crewed airplane, it is the Captain's responsibility to always be in charge...no matter the company or regulatory rules and regulations.
    It is no different than with a Flight Instructor. The Captain is in the exact same position. Not only to not let someone kill him but to assure everyone including himself is maintaining required proficiency.
    Too many Captains and Flight Instructors allow themselves to be inflight attempting to follow the non-pilot financier's study of odds versus cost of insurance to attain maximum efficiency.
    Upon brake release, all pilots in command must fly their airplane.

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    1. Yes Robert, someone has to be in command. But we are all responsible. I suspect the problems that happen in Asian Airlines have a lot to do with the flight crew members who are not captains, and not stepping up to their responsibility too. We are all in it together.

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    2. This is an interesting discussion point and probably worthy of a separate discussion. I think you're 100% correct. It is everyone's responsibility and that perspective absolutely needs to be hammered home. Sometime there will be one person that has enough information to save the day. Regardless of that person's position, they need to be encouraged to speak up because "we're all in this together." We absolutely have do depend on that person because none of us are omnipotent in our situational awareness, let alone our skills.

      While everyone is working in this together and they're trained to act/react that way, there always has to be one person that's more accountable than anyone else. For a two person instructional situation that's pretty easy to figure out who's most accountable. Obviously, it's the person who's the instructor. It gets more complicated when you have more people involved, even if they're all very experienced. Everyone might have an opinion but the person that's the instructor or the aircraft commander as the case may be, that person is most accountable. They are the ones that need to know where their limits are and take action as appropriate.

      As much as we might speak about team decisions making, team action and such in the Air Force, in the end it'll always be the person in-charge or the person with the greatest accountability who has to take action before something bad happens.

      An extreme of this situation is a fantastic case study of the Holland B-52 accident at Fairchild AFB almost 20 years ago. The "system" should've prevented the accident from happening. But, the system failed for one reason or another. In the end, it was the lack of personal action by the people most responsible that failed to take action when they should've. The system ultimate failed in this situation because very specific people who should've taken action did not.

      As for the Asian Airlines situation, I hope there will be much discussion on the dynamic of the cockpit and the personal interaction between the crew members involved. I am hopeful there will be tidbits on perceived hierarchy of the various pilots to glean who thought who had active responsibility for ensuring the aircraft landed safely regardless of who was actually controlling the aircraft. From that there might be some lessons learned we all could use.

      Cheers

      Tom



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    3. Thanks for your comment Tom. And I agree... there must be a commander in charge (Captain) that makes the final decision. And if he screws up... his neck... his responsibility, and hopefully not the necks of his passengers.

      But... if I am a First Officer and my Captain is trying to kill me, and the passengers too, due to a grave error... I will do everything I can to not allow that to happen. Despite his being a Captain and in charge.

      I will never follow anyone, even a superior, into a smoking hole. Therefore, I do feel responsible... and think all crewmembers should know enough to manage the ship when the leader has a heart attack.

      I think the word accountable is for everyone. We must all be accountable to the safe outcome of the flight. For our jobs, and to our respective positions. I guess I've seen too many First Officers say It's not my job," the captain's supposed to know. They default to the captain, and don't know limitations, or regulations, etc...

      When I flew with a captain, once upon a time who said, "I hate this plane. I don't like to fly. Keep me out of trouble." That spoke volumes. We all need to be accountable, for the times those leaders are not.

      Yes... a definite discussion on its own. Thanks!!!

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  4. Even in an airline environment, the instructor or Check Pilot is the PIC. In an ab initio situation, the instructor is unquestionably the one in command - and is responsible for whatever hapens.

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    1. Interesting. But... while someone is in command, do you believe that the other crew members should not have responsibility too? Thank you for the comment!

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  5. CRM. Both people are pilots and the Captain should solicit input from all crewmembers - the crew is a team. But, the designated Pilot in Command always holds ultimate responsibility and decision-making for the safe operation of the aircraft. Flight instructors assigned the task of imparting flight instruction are the PIC for that flight, but are not during normal flight operations - that is the PIC. To think otherwise is dangerous since a CFI may only have 1 hour of actual flight time in an aircraft coming out of a 121 simulator based training program and the line check airman in many cases is not a CFI. All ATP holders can impart instruction to another pilot, so in effect if a CFI is flying with an ATP holder roles are reversed - happens all the time. That is not to be confused with the logging of PIC time, and that subject is too lengthy to get into here.

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    1. Thanks for the great comment. In a perfect world that sounds great. But there are so many times I have seen the second in command that knows more and has more experience than the pilot in command. So... should they default to the decision making abilities of that PIC because they have a title?

      What I have seen lately are more FOs who default and stop thinking because they aren't in charge. I suspect my view is for each of us to be responsible for ourselves. Do the best we can. Voice our concerns if someone is making an error. And bottom line, don't let anyone kill you because they have 4 stripes or are the instructor. CRM works well here.

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