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Some strategies for pilots to improve their situational awareness

A plane leaving a red trail in the sky
  • Plan ahead and predetermine crew roles for phases of flight that have high levels of workload. Assign responsibilities for handling problems or unexpected distractions. Be aware of all the services available to you, then use them. For airline pilots this may require getting input from all crew members, including cabin crew. For single pilots, be proactive in sourcing input from ATC, maintenance, dispatch, etc.

  • Avoid fixating on a problem. Direct your attention systematically to the aircraft, the flight path and finally to the people around you. Repeat this attention pattern over and over again.

  • Monitor and critically evaluate your current performance (flight path, fuel estimation) based upon your pre-flight plan.

  • Anticipate by considering the “what ifs”. That is, project ahead and design contingencies to avoid being taken by surprise.

  • While it is important to focus on the details, don’t forget to scan the big picture.

  • Tasks that take time or are subject to interruptions from ATC or other crew are less likely to be done right. Therefore, create visual and/or aural reminders of interrupted tasks. For example, some pilots use the technique of selecting the audio for the outer marker when they have been instructed to contact the tower at the outer marker early in their approach. This aural reminder means that they don’t have to remember to look during a busy phase of flight.

  • Use the checklist to watch for clues of degraded situation awareness.

  • If you observe any obvious signs in words or actions that indicate situation awareness is breaking down, speak up.

  • For safe and efficient operations all members of a crew need to act together and a key component to achieve this is a high level of group situational awareness (SA), that is “the degree to which every team member possesses the SA required for his or her responsibilities”.

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