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A recent survey of the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) database on incidents involving general aviation (
GA) aircraft revealed that one third of the GA incidents were associated with communications difficulties. These problems included failure to comply with ATC clearances, communications equipment malfunctions, and poor radio technique. The results of this survey suggested to our research team that GA communications issues were an appropriate topic for further ASRS research. We were also aware that past ASRS research on general aviation issues has not focused on this subject. It largely has been confined to weather-related topics, such as single-pilot IFR; pilot judgment issues; and flight phasespecific problems such as landing in cidents. --ASRS Editor
he 1996 Nall Report, pub-
Air Safety Foundation, further
concentration of fatalities and accidents during dual instruction: the only fatal go-around accident, four of the five fatal maneuvering accidents, and five out of seven non-fatal maneuvering accidents occurred during dual instruction. This cluster of accidents and fatalities in dual flight instruction raised the question of whether problematic communications, both inside and outside the aircraft, might have played a role.
A final motivation for this study was research by NASA and others which has shown that in shared decisionmaking situations similar to those that occur in GA dual flight instruction, there is often a failure of individuals to take responsibility for actions, including communications. At the 1995 Ohio State University (OSU) Symposium, Carolyn Prince and Renee Stout pre
well-qualified copilots since much of the more introspective and background work emanates from the right side. But many consider sitting in the right seat more of a holding pattern or necessary evil to be endured while waiting to return to the driver's seat.
Much of this impatience to return to the left seat has been ameliorated by cockpit resource management training. The recognition of a near-equal partnership between front-end crew members has lessened the rigid hierarchical relationship that once predominated in cockpits. The concept of teamwork and collective problem-solving has served to elevate the role and status of the copilot. While personalities still intervene in the process of shared duties and mutual respect, the copilot's job has gained increased importance
within the past twenty years.
Back to our Super Pilot; what's wrong with his right seat performance? Since we are dealing with human beings, it is difficult to say with certainty what is wrong. Personality conflict, personal problems, or just a "bad hair day" may be interfering with the close link that should exist between him and his pilot. Whatever the problem, he should be called to task on his substandard performance, since there are potential safety implications involved. Allowing this performance to go unchecked gives tacit approval to it and will tend to perpetuate it.
Such discussions may prove confrontational. However, the chances of them becoming so are lessened if CRM principles are used. The pilot should state his/her concern over spe
cific items of performance and invite discussion from the other party. If done in a professional and caring manner, conflict can often be avoided. Regardless of whether conflict is encountered, deficiencies of performance should not be allowed to hover between cockpit crew members.
Few people have attempted to define the qualities of a good copilot. Most of us concentrate on those of the pilot to the exclusion of the copilot. See if you agree that the following attributes mark the good copilot.
Anticipation. The ability to look ahead and have information ready,
communicate a need to ATC, or insert information into the FMS in a timely manner saves much grief and turmoil. Without this quality the copilot is either chronically behind the aircraft or must be prompted by the pilot.
Preparedness. Closely aligned with anticipation, preparation for what comes next is a highly desired quality. Even though one anticipates correctly, without preparation for the required action, the gesture is lost.
Vigilance. A heavy term, but essential. Too much happens during high workload situations for one pilot to cope safely. The demands of staying ahead of the aircraft may not allow him/her to be on the lookout for traffic outside and for anomalies within the cockpit. The second set of eyes and ears and, most importantly, a second brain, concentrating on the tasks at hand are invaluable.
Expertise. Does the copilot know the aircraft, the ATC system, company policy, standard operating procedures, and the needs of the passengers? Without an in-depth knowledge of these features the right-seater may be more liability than asset.
Willingness to help. This feature may be the most important of all. If the copilot embodies all the other desirable qualities and has a poor attitude or is poorly motivated, he/she may be better considered as ballast than as a crew member. When the going gets fast and rough both pilots must be willing to assist the other in performing their duties; without this quality the crew may as well be flying two singlepilot aircraft in tight formation, not one dual-piloted.
The best flight crews seem to talk little, yet they communicate well through mutual respect, professionalism, and good standard operating procedures. Copilots may have to contribute more than their half of this effort. The best copilots are those who stay ahead of both the aircraft and the pilot flying not an easy task.
John Sheehan is the Secretary General of the International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (IAOPA).