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-          dilemma in multicrew environment.

By Major Abdul Latif Bin Mohamed TUDM

No 16 Squadron


Consider a typical intercom exchanges during RIG maneuver at low level on a maritime flight:

(Captain is trying to position for a side pass at one hundred feet on radio altimeter.)

Copilot: Speed!

Captain: Check  (adding power a bit)

Nav: Advise turning below three hundred

Captain: Roger; limiting to 20 degrees (AOB)

Copilot: Passing two hundred

Captain: Check

Copilot: Approaching one hundred

Nav: Height!

Captain: Roger maintaining one hundred; target 30 seconds starboard.

Observer: Roger sir, camera ready.  


            Multicrew flying demands that each crew perform their task at the optimum level in order to ensure a successful mission. One inherent advantage in multicrew flying is that we have other people cross-checking our moves or actions.  But the old problem with multicrew flying is when we have a type of captain who is authoritarian in style. Or the captain who regards his copilot as only useable for preparing log cards, raising landing gear or lowering the flaps.  Among the pilot's population also we have a type of pilot who undergo a dramatic change in behavior once landing gears are selected up or when they are on oxygen mask. They might be a decent gentlemen on ground but transforming into a violent behavior once they put on oxygen mask or when aircraft leaving ground effect. These "behavioral changes" could not be detected on annual medical check up.  Captain's with this type of behavior or personality if paired with junior or meek copilot will present a very unhealthy cockpit environment.  It is very unhealthy since if he makes mistakes the copilot will not be in a position to take over control from him.  A clear example of the outcome of hostile cockpit environment can be read from the writings about Trident tragedy in 1972.[1] Other captain might have problem with his ego. He cannot accept if somebody of junior position than himself like a copilot criticizes his actions even if it deviates from standard practices. We must remember that we are human and "to err is human".  It is better if we have somebody who can advise or criticize us when we make mistakes before that mistakes cost us dearly.  On the ego issue, perhaps a saying by a Sufi, which can be quoted here, might be a good lead. When the Sufi was asked what is meant by zuhud, his answer was "zuhud is when you feel the same whether people praise you or people criticize you".  And we have to remember that in flying "ego can kills".


 Let us illustrate this problem with the crash of DHC-6 operated as Flight 248." Flying the aircraft in the left seat was a 61 year-old company vice president with over 20 000 flight hours. It was known that he rarely acknowledged checklist items or other callouts from any first officer. The first officer, on the other hand, had only been with the company for two months (was on probation -during which he could be terminated with or without cause). As the captain maneuvered the aircraft for the ILS approach into Hyannis, Massachusetts in marginal weather, the NTSB report states that he began to exhibit poor pitch and altitude control and allowed a steep descent rate to develop. The NTSB determined that the aircraft passed the outer marker only 220 feet above the ground, travelling at 120 knots and descending 1400 fpm. The impact occurred six seconds later. The first officer survived; the captain did not.

The first officer testified that he made all the required calls except the "no contact" call, but the captain never acknowledge any callouts and never responded by adjusting the attitude of the aircraft, and the first officer never made any attempt to take control of the aircraft".[2] In our last article about "cockpit robotics" we did mention about the crash of B747 on approach for runway 33 at Barajas Airport.[3] In the last several seconds the copilot only mildly asked the captain "What does the ground say, commander" when the ground proximity warning system (GPWS) sounded for the fourth consecutive times.[4] Sadly the ground answered his question - since he makes no attempts to take over control.

This problem of first officer or copilot reluctant to take over control from captain when dangerous situation developing is known in some writings as "Excessive Professional Courtesy".  United Airlines did a simulator study on this behavior in which they told the captain to stop flying somewhere on the approach without making it appear that there is a problem. The result: 25 percent of the copilots let the aircraft crash rather than take the control from the captain.  Those that finally take control waited up to four minutes before doing so.[5] Four minutes in a jet that descending towards the ground…….think about it.

Consequently a tool called the "Two -Challenge Rule" was designed to overcome excessive professional courtesy and helping the copilot to decide when to take over control immediately. This rule demands a very precise standard operating procedure (SOP) that specifies how approaches or maneuvers will be conducted and what callouts the copilots should make. As long as the captain stays within the specified parameters the copilot does not make any calls other than those specified by the SOP.  If the pilot go outside the parameters, for example, one dot low on the glideslope the copilot will callout "one dot low and increasing".  The pilot must respond "correcting" and do so. If he keep silent and never make corrections, he will get another challenge from the copilot - "A dot and a half low and increasing". If he still maintain zombie, the next words out from copilot's mouth are, "I have the controls".

This two-challenge rule is so effective that in subsequent simulator study with this rule in effect, no one crashed. Also it is good to note that, the captain or the flying pilot can make their own calls to the copilot or to themselves of any deviations before reaching the limits necessitate a call from the copilot. For example, a captain drifting off the localizer centerline might say out "Slightly left and correcting." The advantage is that it keeps the copilot advised of what is going on in the captain's mind even as it causes the captain to fly more accurately.

So, in the scenario that we portray on the first paragraph, we see that the cockpit environment is healthy and the SOP is good enough. To the maritime copilot, just remember this: If the captain does not respond twice to your callout on height and speed with that close proximity with ocean swell the dice is on your hand! You are the last fort on which the navigator and the observer depends for a safe recovery to their loves one.






[1] Stanley Stewart, Air Disaster – Dialogue From The Black Box, “The Trident Tragedy 1972,” PRC, Leicester, 1994, pp 91-92.

[2] Jay Hopkins, Flying Magazine, “Too Much Courtesy,” Nov 1993, pp. 52-54.

[3] Kapt Abdul Latif bin Mohamed TUDM, Majalah Keselamatan TUDM, “Cockpit Robotics – Dangers lurking in the shadow,” Bil: 108/99, pp. 24-26.

[4] David Beaty, The Naked Pilot – The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents, “Laterality: Green for Danger,” Airlife Publishing, England, 1995, pp. 178-179.

[5] Jay Hopkins, Flying Magazine, “Too Much Courtesy,” Nov 1993, pp. 52-54.

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