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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, 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. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Flyer Challenge

Today I'm posting a question from a young lady who is going to be a pilot.  Despite her fair share of challenges in Malaysia, she is working hard to make her dreams come true. 

Yesterday she sent me a great question. Something that I have been asked on numerous airline interviews, in one form or another. I will pose this question to you... 

You don't have to be a pilot to answer...

What Would You Do?

JuJu asks,

How should the first officer respond if he knew the captain is making a wrong decision…e.g flying into thunderstorm cloud / ignore the decision height / having conflict idea to proceed or return back to base and mostly the answers I got from the sites will be: First officer should be assertive in voicing out his concern..., but they left it hanging there…

What IF the captain ignore the First officer. First officer continues to nag at the captain? hahaha
I know physical violence is not allowed in the cockpit.... so what should the FO do?? some people said, FO should report to the management about the captain's behavior after arrival (ONLY if they make it down safely)

So during the mid flight crisis, how should it be done? Trust the captain's decision because of his vast experience? FO worry/think too much so he should listen to the captain? 

Also I know it is all depends on the severity of problems… for e.g, what if FO think it is a big deal but captain is confident that the problem doesn't affect the flight…

Interview Question

I was asked on an interview ... "The weather has gone below minimums, and your captain is going to continue. He say's, 'I've done this a million times. No problem. Besides, I have a hot date tonight.' What would you do?"

These are good questions. Not only for an interview, but to think about how you would respond, prior to being in a situation that could mean life or death.

Please tell me your thoughts... then I will share mine at the end of the day.

Be safe, and enjoy the journey.
XO Karlene


  1. I hate that this is the case, but in my relatively short career, I've seen my fair share of incompetent captains, people who I wondered how they got to where they were. And unfortunately a few of these people have made mistakes in the cockpit while flying with me. Thankfully they all turned out ok, but I wouldn't hesitate to deal with the situation as needed. I always attempt to be respectful towards a captain, but I would never let someone kill me, not to mention all of the people behind us...

    1. Daniel, I'm just now reading through the answers and... you've just hit it on the head. I would take whatever steps are necessary to not allow the captain to kill me, too. And that will determine how we react, depending upon the situation.

  2. Since they hired you, what do you think the correct answer was? Isn't there a "I take control" button on fly-by-wire airplanes like the airbus series? I think I would say (in a case of immediate threat) "my airplane" and take control. The Captain could take it back, but unless he or she is totally determined to do the bad thing anyway, I think resistance from the RHS would make them think twice. Plus it's clearly something that would get that person fired it if came to the attention of "Mother".

    1. This particular question came from Evergreen. I asked again... "So you are telling me that this Captain is violating minimums, to get on the ground for a date?" I hesitated and then said, "I would seriously question his judgment since going around would mean he could go to the alternate with me instead." Then they laughed. Then I told them what I would do. I'll write that down below.

  3. Stand up for what you think is right! I know it's easier said than done, especially since the F/O only has 3 bars, and the almighty Captain has 4. F/Os and Captains go through the same training from the start, the difference is the Captain check-out and often more experience. This brings us back to the recent FAA 1500-hour requirement. Does 1000 hrs flying a C172 equal 200 hours flying something more technically advanced? Of course not. But even with less experience, or even different type of experience, the F/O shouldn't hesitate voicing his/her opinion on what the appropriate action should be, to secure the safe outcome of the flight.

    1. Cecilie, the interesting thing is that all pilots, FOs and Captains get the exact same check-out. There is no difference. We are all type-rated. They just get more money and get to sit in the left seat for takeoff and landing.

      Yes... stand up for what you think is right. Definitely. Now the question is this... What do you do? How do you stand up for what is right? That might be the ultimate question.

  4. Communciation tool i learned.
    PACE model
    First we Probe..."hey how about those thunderstorms ahead eh?"
    So we Alert,a little more direct..."perhaps we should deviate a little but or plan for our alternate"
    Then we challenge..."lets deviate from these right now"
    And then if that gets no response, we take emergency action

    Now that seems to be the dont always wanna just take control...sure we can apply the two challenge rule of two challenge no response we take control.


    We can do it kinda trickery. I would go on the radio. "center company flight 7722 deviating 20 degrees to the right for thunderstorms...or initiating go around would like vectorsfor..."

    Then you've done your part, if he doesn't do it then its in the record tapes. His ass is on the line without the physical struggle.


    1. Ramiel, out of the mouth of a good first officer. I love that PACE model. That's a great communication tool. Did you take a communication course for aviation?

      Also, the trickery. I've known pilots to do exactly as you stated here. You may have to pay the consequences later, but you will be alive to do it.

    2. Consequences are fine. I'm alive! And not exactly but we did have about a total of 6 days on CRM, taught by an airline pilot. And in the other classes we had such as SMS, flight ops which had TEM...those were also taught by airline pilots.

      :) Those are the kinds of things that I lucked out getting by going to a college I guess. I'm sure it's a lot harder to apply these with an arrogant captain in real life but at least I have some background knowledge of what I could do.

    3. Ramiel, you've made another great point. These "are" the things we need to think about, and discuss, before they happen in real life. Sometimes we need to be prepared for the unexpected.

      We used to teach this kind of stuff in the good old days. But now, pilots go to class in their living room on a disk. Somehow we lose something with that process. You're very fortunate for your great education.

  5. For purposes of maintaining a good rapport with the captain, I would not argue with him or her because we are part of the same team known as the flight crew and he or she is the leader.
    However, I would raise my concerns in an assertive manner.

    1. Maintaining a good rapport is essential. But what if, he disregarded your concerns? Would you sacrifice safety to maintain that good rapport? And is it possible?

  6. Tough one! But if you don't know the captain by reputation/haven't flown with him enough to know his skill level, I'd say go with your gut if it's screaming at you, and challenge him.

    1. Absolutely. We all don't know everything, but if our gut screams... we should listen. Did you know that with every accident there was always at least one person who wasn't listening to their gut and the other signs they were in trouble?

  7. It isn't always easy to challenge authority but when lives are at stake, it's a must if you notice something that could alter things. Any good leader would recognize and respect input. Any bad one deserves to be challenged anyway. Love the flyer challenge by the way!

    1. Thank you Heather. The flyer challenge was due to a challenge. :) Challenging authority is a challenge for sure, especially if the culture of your company says otherwise. But we need to do what we think is right. When life and death is involved, we have to do what we were trained to do.

  8. Now this is a very interesting and important question.
    An accident occurred back in the 90s when a flight inbound to one of the caribean islands was totally proceeded imprudently. It was a night of thunderstorms, when the captain insisted departing on time without hesitating. It was raining a lot, the F/O was looking at the captains eyes and asked why he didn't turned the anti-icing as if they were passing through this huge CB. Ice was accumulating in the windshield, the captain noticed, but he insisted on saying it wasn't necessary. The F/O was so worried, but he couldn't interfere on the captain's decision. The airplane entered in a irreversible stall, the yoke started shaking, the aircraft components were frozen. Furthermore, the plane belly-slammed right to the ground and everybody on board died.

    An FAA consultant was interviewed after the accident saying that it doesn't matter if the captain has 4 stripes on each shoulder... If the First Officer thinks the Pilot is putting on board lives in grave danger, or if he notices something going strictly wrong, he has all the rights on interfering the Captain's act and take control of the airplane.

    What I think about this:
    The FAA consultant is 100% right. We are humans, not flying robots. Like Cecilie said, they all came from the same training procedures. Every Captain had already been a F/O. It is a matter of having moral rights and saving more than 100 lives. However, the system should, somehow, detect and pass the controls to the right side of the cockpit. If it was me, I would interfere and bring the plane to the ground safely.

    1. Thank you Alex. I am glad you would interfere and bring the plane to a safe landing, because that interference could be just what was needed. We all need to have a voice and do what we think is right.

      Unfortunately, I know of a first officer that lost his job because he didn't listen to the captain, and made a decision to land despite the captain telling him to go around. It was the "3rd" missed-approach. I don't believe that was right to fire him based on his not listening to the captain, but then I don't know "all" the details.

      I wonder... if the first officer thought landing was safer than one more go-around... maybe fuel was low... then I'm not convinced the punishment fit the crime.

      He could have got fired for a poor decision, poor execution of landing... anything. But if we start firing first officers because they make decisions, contrary to the guy in the left seat... what message is that sending? It's a fine line, I know.

      What about Jet Blue? What if that First Officer had been wrong and the Captain began behaving normally after he was locked out? Would he have been fired for that decision? As it turned out, he's a hero.

      Bottom line... it's better to be alive and do a rug dance than dead and have it been a "should have."

      Thanks for your comment.

  9. That's a pretty tough question. As we saw in the case of the Tenerife disaster, there's no simple answer. The relationship between captain and FO can degenerate and fall apart rapidly in a situation, and no amount of training can prepare you for something like that, especially as the conditions worsen and the likelihood of an accident rises.

    It comes down to remembering that, despite all of the external pressures of passengers and the company, our number one concern is the safety of flight. Media scandals, overhead pressures, a broken relationship between the pilots flying - all of these are secondary to the safety of everyone on board the aircraft. It seems we can never have enough sobering reminders of this fact.

    It's easy to say "if I were there, I would do this," but without having both that person's exact flying experience and personal history as well as having the exact same set of flight conditions, no one can ever really know what he would have done.

    1. Christine, that's a good point... it's so easy to say, "I would..." Because until you're in that seat, you don't know. And you want to have faith and trust in your captain. We all want the guy in the left seat to know what he's doing, and make the right decision. But that might not always be the case.

      Bottom line... passenger safety. Many captains I've flown with say, "They don't pay me to be a hero. They pay me to be safe."

    2. There were two disasters in Tenerife. the other one was a Dan Air B727 that went astray during an instrument procedure turn, and flew into a mountain in IMC. THe Captain was flying, and the FO was concerned, but not assertive enough. They all died.

      I was working in the ops room at LGW, and took the call to say the a/c was overdue. Since I was the most junior, I was given the job of saying "no comment" to every caller while we worked out what had happened - you'd be surprised at all the weirdness that goes on - people calling to say there was baggage in the ocean, the airplane had landed somewhere else, none of it true.

      The FO's job is to assist, and if necessary to backup (or even confront) the Captain. Or he/she wouldn't be necessary. All the Captain would need is a good autopilot.

    3. Thank you for the added input. That must have been a horrific day... and days following. You're right: They need to speak up. I had a challenge teaching the New Second Officers on the 747 to speak up. They were on probation and flying with the senior sky gods. One senior sky gods said, "I don't need a second officer, all I need is a stick with a piece of gum on it."

  10. What it takes for an effective crew:

    Assertiveness with Respect
    Authority with Participation

    1. So true. We've heard that often. But with the respect given while being assertive, and participating, and the Captain is just making a really bad decision... at what point do you take it from him? How?

  11. What I told Evergreen after I made a little joke about the going to the alternate is....

    That I would never allow another pilot to kill me. But fighting over a plane during approach, is probably more dangerous than the captain continuing the approach below minimums. I said that I would continue to monitor, and if at any time he was outside parameters, I would yell, "Go Around!"

    Because honestly, most pilots will go around if they are given that command. Shout it out like you mean it. They should believe that you see something they don't.

    If a pilot is continuing and not making decisions because he is unsure, then saying "Go-around" will give him guidance.

    Do we need to hit our captain over the head with our flashlight because he's trying to stall the plane? Not normally.

    Juju, when you see a captain making what you think as a bad decision, I would ask them about it in a non-threatening way, but more you want to learn. Then, he should tell you his thought process. That will open the door for you to add your reasons why you don't think it's a good idea.

    Think about "why" the captain is making that decision. He doesn't know better? Probably not if it's an assertive decision that he argues his point.

    If you can find out "why" he is doing what he's doing, through questions, that will help you decide how to deal with it. Is it ego? Do we not have enough fuel to do another missed? Has he already worked through all the options in his mind and found the best... he just hasn't communicated his thought process?

    Once you've had this discussion, he may change his mind and not think it's a good idea either. But, if this decision was ego driven, he won't change his mind because of that ego and try to stand his ground.

    In this case, you use these words, "I don't feel comfortable flying that close to the thunderstorms." Or whatever it is. Chances are, his ego will allow him to change course because of "YOU" not feeling comfortable. He can save face. "Okay, well if you're not comfortable I suppose we can go another way." Which is fine. You want results, not a pat on the back.

    If it comes down to you think they are going to kill you. Do whatever it takes to not allow that to happen. If you need to lock him out of the flight deck, then do it.

    Be alive to tell the world why you made the decision you did, instead of us listening to the voice recorder wondering why you didn't speak up.

    1. Very true last sentence there. Also I was also taught and was thinking about the "i dont feel comfortable..." line.
      I never thought about yelling go around though that probably works cuz like you said they may not have expected it and just respond reactivelu to it and initiate the go around.

    2. Yes... I think a positive command can and will make a person go around. The "I don't feel comfortable" line also enables others to speak out too. Usually, we think we're alone...but we're not.

  12. Well said! I thank each and every one of you here for sharing your personal thoughts.
    Thank you so much Capt Karlene for putting up this post for discussion,and you've open up my mind on how to deal with such challenge in near future =)Thank you for your good advice and guiding me all these while!

    1. Hi Juju, you are welcome. I think these things are all something we need to think about before the time arrives. So thank you very much for giving us something important to discuss.

  13. Karlene san!!! I have no idea about the environment in the cockpit though let me guess.
    In my opinion,it happens that human make a not good decision making,and that is why airline company assign 2 or 3 pilots in the cockpit,and captain and first officer should corporate each other during each flight to make the sky safe.I imagine each captain has different personality,but each pilot's has a same thought about safety.
    So If I am 100% sure about something to discuss captains decision making in the future,I would say my idea,and if he ignore my idea or deny,I would ask the reason.
    And let me read everyone's thought!!
    Thank you so much for sharing,
    Have a great day,

    1. Jun, you are so right. It would be the very rare captain to not discuss and listen to his fellow crewmembers in today's world. We are all in this together. There are a few out there, but thankfully few and far between, and we don't see them often. Thank you so much for your comment. And, now that you are in America, call your father (on skype) and tell him, Happy Father's Day tomorrow.


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