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Southport, Manitoba, Canada
Steve Pomroy is a professional flight instructor and aviation writer. He has been teaching since 1995 and holds an Airline Transport Pilot License, Class 1 Instructor and Aerobatic Instructor Ratings, military QFI, and an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He's written and published three flight training books through his company, SkyWriters Publishing, and has several other books under development. Steve currently teaches RCAF pilot candidates on their Primary Flight Training course.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Takeoff Briefing

The takeoff briefing is a crew briefing (not to be confused with a passenger briefing) conducted just before takeoff. It orients us to the takeoff procedure and forces us to make critical time-sensitive decisions in advance—especially those that may be required during an emergency.

In a multi-crew operation, the takeoff briefing also serves to ensure that both pilots are on the same page and ready to work together through the takeoff process—including if something unplanned happens. In the case of the unplanned "something", it eliminates the need to discuss options at a point where time is critical—the decisions are already made and agreed upon, all that's left is to act on the situation.

When operating single-pilot, we should still be conducting takeoff briefings. The purpose of the briefing still helps us assess the takeoff and prepare for the unplanned "somethings" that could happen. During an emergency on takeoff, time is usually critical regardless of whether we are operating multi-pilot or single-pilot. The briefing gives us the opportunity to make critical decisions in advance so that we don't have to take the time to do so as the aircraft is moving.

The question then, is, "How do we do a takeoff briefing?". Commercial operators often have SOP's that dictate how the briefing is conducted. If we don't have the benefit of an SOP, we can develop a takeoff briefing by considering how many different ways the takeoff might progress.

Of course, there's the obvious,if-everything-goes-perfectly scenario. More often than not, this is precisely the scenario we're dealing with. So it's definitely worth briefing normal ops—runway, winds, speeds, etc. Normal Ops covers the first two steps of the pre-takeoff briefing: Environment and Procedure. In other words, what are the operating conditions, and how do we plan to operate.

If we knew with certainty that everything would go according to plan, the briefing would stop there. But what if something goes wrong: Instrument misreading? System annunciator? Engine failure? Bird strike? These possibilities lead to the rest of the briefing.

In light/slow aircraft, emergencies or abnormal situations during takeoff can be divided into three categories: During the roll, Airborne and able to keep flying, and Airborne and unable to keep flying. In bigger/faster airplanes, the During the Roll category is sometimes broken down further by using a cutoff speed such as V1 or some fixed numerical value (e.g. - 80 knots) to decide whether a takeoff should be rejected or not1.
During the roll
For most light aircraft, any abnormal or emergency situation during the takeoff roll should result in a rejected takeoff. There may be exceptions to this rule, for example if the accelerate-stop distance is longer than the runway length available, we may choose a reject point or reject speed past which you would continue if the aircraft is still flyable. But it's not unusual for the reject point to be the liftoff point. the briefing should include a quick review of how the takeoff would be rejected (power to idle, max braking, and any other point that may be type-specific).

Airborne and able to keep flying
This one should be self-explanatory. Nonetheless, we should include it in a briefing—as a fresh reminder if nothing else. If the airplane can still fly, we can fly it around to land back on the runway we just departed from. Note that if we're IFR, this could be more complicated depending on the weather and the facilities available.

Airborne and unable to keep flying
This one should also be self-explanatory. But it's also worth reviewing—again, as a reminder if nothing else. Usually, the unable-to-continue flight scenario means minimum turns to avoid obstacles and landing roughly straight-ahead. But again there are situation-specific exceptions. For example, if there is water straight ahead, but a 40° left turn will enable a landing on dry land, this point could be included in the briefing.

Last, but not least, we need to review any Crew Roles that were not already covered in the previous points. In a single pilot operation, this is easy—the pilot does everything. However, in a multi-pilot operation, pilot-flying and pilot-monitoring roles need to be clear. Even on a single-pilot flight where our passenger is a pilot, we should use that person's abilities in an emergency—always stack the odds in our own favor as much as possible. When I fly on mutual proficiency flights with other instructors, it's routine for the takeoff briefing to include a statement like ,"in the event of an engine failure, I'll fly the plane, you take care of the radios and transponder.".

So, in summary, the takeoff briefing should cover the following, in order:
  1. Environment: Runway, Wind, Traffic
  2. Procedure: Type of Takeoff, Parameters (speeds, climb profile, planned track, etc.), Crew Roles
  3. Abnormal Indications: On the Roll
  4. Abnormal Indications: Airborne, can keep flying
  5. Abnormal Indications: Airborne, cannot keep flying
  6. Crew roles
Happy Flying!

1 – Rejections at higher speeds are higher risk because of the higher kinetic energy of the aircraft. So an "abnormal" situation may result in the decision to continue, whereas an "emergency" may still result in a rejected takeoff.


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