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Crew Coordination Briefing and Safety

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Crew Coordination Briefing and Safety

This article is intended for those of you who fly with a family member or friend or flying buddy. The idea of crew coordination is not limited to airlines or military flying as it can lend to the safety of your flights by using the other person to back you up.

Crew Coordination Briefing and Safety

written by Lt. Col Marc Nathanson (Ret.) FAA Designated Pilot Examiner:

Lets begin by looking a passenger briefing I made for the Cessna 172. As with any personal checklist, I tried to cover all contingencies, however, this is not possible as we witnessed by the loss of life after the crash of an airliner in California a few months ago. People survived the crash, but at least one person was killed when they were run over by a responding vehicle. You will note that I include 'watch for vehicles' in my check list. Even though the FARs don’t require the use of seat belts and shoulder harnesses after takeoff and landing, I require my passengers to wear their them at all times. You don’t want to have to contend with an unsecured passenger during the bumpy flights.

Passenger Briefings:  

C-172: Emergency Exit:

  • Open door by pulling up on the handle and opening the door outwards. Exit aircraft.
  • Emergency exist are the windows by opening with the latch at the bottom of the window and breaking the hinge so the window fully opens.
  • Kick out the rear passenger side windows.
  • Lower the rear seat back by lifting up the handle at the bottom of the rear seat and exit through the baggage door left side of the aircraft as a last ditch emergency exit.
  • In all cases, proceed to the rear of the aircraft being careful not to run into the horizontal portion of the tail.
  • Look for the pilot and watch out for responding vehicles
  • Look for fire and if on your side, exit opposite side.
  • The fire extinguisher (if installed) is on the (floor) and is secured with one or two latches. Remove the extinguisher and wait for the pilot to direct you to pull the safety pin and pull the handle. Point the stream at the bottom of the flames.
  • Watch for people or vehicles or anything around the aircraft. Bring this to the attention of the pilot.

General Safety:

  • Please do not talk while on the ground unless told you can do so by the pilot.  Listen for the “N” number of the aircraft and don’t talk when you hear it on the radio as the pilot will have to respond.
  • Point to other aircraft and make sure the pilot sees them.
  • Wear your seat belts at all times. The lap and shoulder harness are required to be on and secured for all takeoffs and landings.
  • No smoking in or near the aircraft at anytime.
  • Inform the pilot of anything unusual.

Now you are ready for takeoff. Unfortunately, things can go wrong so here is a briefing for the 172 that lets your flying buddy know what your plan is. Note, and this is very important, in #3, I included the procedures I teach my students if the engine fails on takeoff with no runway remaining to land on.  

Do NOT attempt to turn the aircraft around using my method unless you receive instruction from a competent instructor who has been teaching and understands this procedure. I teach my students this procedure and ensure they are competent in performing it before solo along with one spin ride in our Super Decathlon. With this said, you must learn how much you can turn the aircraft without engine power at glide speed.

On practical tests, I often hear applicants state that they won’t turn at all until reaching a specific altitude, normally 1,000’ AGL. So, at 500’ AGL why glide straight ahead into a stone wall, a lake full of Piranhas, alligators or other dangerous terrain when a turn of only a few degrees will put you into a nice flat field.  You can turn, but you must know how much and practicing at altitude is a great idea.

Takeoff Safety Briefing:


  • If the engine fails or there is any reason to abort the takeoff while still on the runway:
  1. Throttle(s) to idle and apply brakes as necessary and, when under control, taxi off at the first taxiway if possible. Call tower and tell them “(Cessna 12345) aborting runway (29)”
  • Airborne with runway remaining:
  2. Throttle(s) to idle then as in above procedures
  • Airborne with no runway remaining:
  2. Leave in full power in case the engine restarts and can be used to make it to a better landing place. You still want to land as there may be no guarantee the engine will continue to run.
  3. Turn as much as possible to land in the best place. You might have to land in the trees or other less than desirable place, but keep the nose down to at least glide attitude. This will maximize your glide range and help promote you safely making it to an appropriate landing site.

Do NOT use the following emergency maneuver unless it was taught to you and you have practiced it to proficiency:
If you have high enough altitude under current conditions for you particular aircraft:

  1. Nose down
  2. Bank to 60° max
  3. Pull aircrafts’ nose around to land:
  • Opposite direction on the runway          
  • On a taxiway if clear of traffic
  • On the airfield property if possible.

Note: By “pulling the aircrafts’ nose around to land” I mean that you should make certain it is a coordinated pull (Slip/Skid Ball centered) and that you don’t stall the aircraft. A positive, somewhat aggressive pull is necessary to ensure the aircraft is turned enough to land in the opposite direction.

Take the time to cover emergency procedures with your flying pal so they know where in the POH (normally chapter 3 in modern POHs) certain emergencies are located. For example, what would you want them to do in the case of an engine failure at altitude?  By “At altitude” I mean you have time to perform the emergency procedures to include a restart attempt. You could have them:

  1. Read the emergency procedures and ensure you are doing them.
  2. Change the transponder squawk code to 7700.
  3. (This is often forgotten) Push the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) to ON to alert responding agencies and other aircraft monitoring 121.5, the emergency frequency that you are declaring an emergency.
  4. Make an emergency call on 121.5 or to an agency you are presently talking to such as tower or approach control.

How about smoke & fumes in the cockpit? Do they know to close the vents first?

If aborting a takeoff, you could teach them to say (Cessna 12345) aborting runway (29) which will allow you to “Maintain Aircraft Control” while alerting the tower or, if at an uncontrolled filed, other pilots in the pattern that you may have to stop on the runway.

Crew coordination is what you make it. Some of your flying buddies may not be capable of handling too much. Teach them things to do on each flight that will help you, such as how to change radio frequencies, transponder codes and hitting the ident button on the transponder, or other tasks that may be of help to you.

Instrument approaches are high stress and consuming tasks. Teach your buddy to watch altitudes and call them off as you descend to include calling out the MDA or DA so you can concentrate on flying the approach. With that said you are still responsible for taking the proper action at these altitudes and must watch the altimeter as well. Or, you could teach them to watch for ground contact, i.e., when they see the ground and that they should say “stay inside” if they don’t see the runway environment.  “Stay inside” means that you should continue to fly by the instruments until the runway environment is positively identified.

Of course, you must use discretion when asking your buddy to make these calls and remember, as Pilot In Command, you are still responsible for performing these tasks. Think of your buddy as a back up. Their calls should not be done using their “outside voice”. Teach them to use a voice loud enough to be heard, yet in a calm, but easily identifiable level.

Friends you fly with usually like being involved and they will often gain confidence and have less stress if they are involved. There will be less chance of manifestation of apprehension (fear of the unknown) if they are aware of what is going on. It also adds to their excitement and appreciation of what it takes to be a pilot.

One more thing, some flying buddies may not want to fly if they learn of the possible emergencies. But, remember that it is still your obligation as required by regulations to, at the very least, brief them on those items found in FAR 91.519 which states:

Sec. 91.519 — Passenger briefing.
(a) Before each takeoff the pilot in command of an airplane carrying passengers shall ensure that all passengers have been orally briefed on—
(1) Smoking. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions smoking is prohibited. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that the Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with lighted passenger information signs and no smoking placards, prohibit smoking in lavatories, and require compliance with crewmember instructions with regard to these items;
(2) Use of safety belts and shoulder harnesses. Each passenger shall be briefed on when, where, and under what conditions it is necessary to have his or her safety belt and, if installed, his or her shoulder harness fastened about him or her. This briefing shall include a statement, as appropriate, that Federal Aviation Regulations require passenger compliance with the lighted passenger sign and/or crewmember instructions with regard to these items;
(3) Location and means for opening the passenger entry door and emergency exits;
(4) Location of survival equipment;
(5) Ditching procedures and the use of flotation equipment required under §91.509 for a flight over water; and
(6) The normal and emergency use of oxygen equipment installed on the airplane.
(b) The oral briefing required by paragraph (a) of this section shall be given by the pilot in command or a member of the crew, but need not be given when the pilot in command determines that the passengers are familiar with the contents of the briefing. It may be supplemented by printed cards for the use of each passenger containing—
(1) A diagram of, and methods of operating, the emergency exits; and
(2) Other instructions necessary for use of emergency equipment.
(c) Each card used under paragraph (b) must be carried in convenient locations on the airplane for the use of each passenger and must contain information that is pertinent only to the type and model airplane on which it is used.
(d) For operations under subpart K of this part, the passenger briefing requirements of §91.1035 apply, instead of the requirements of paragraphs (a) through (c) of this section.
[Doc. No. 18334, 54 FR 34314, Aug. 18, 1989, as amended by Amdt. 91–231, 57 FR 42672, Sept. 15, 1992; Amdt. 91–280, 68 FR 54561, Sept. 17, 2003]

As always; Fly safe and enjoy.

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