Checklists - Cockpit - Pilot

Checklists – The Pillar of Aviation

Tim Takeoff
14.01.2020
5 minutes

The fact that pilots work with checklists is known to most people interested in aviation. They help with problems and… and, what exactly for? We bring light into the darkness.

In hardly any other technical area does safety play such an important role as in aviation. Complex technology in the hands of everchanging individuals. How does that even work? Basically, one could think that the more complex the aircraft, the more extensive the corresponding checklists would have to be. However, this is only partly true.

Large stacks of paper

When operating an older aircraft, the crew in the cockpit always needed a huge stack of paper. Charts, logbooks, technical documentation, and checklists. They are still an integral part of the cockpit today. In simple aircraft they are still primarily available in paper form and in multiple copies.

Smart cockpit

Modern commercial aircraft have been increasingly adapted to the needs of pilots. In the meantime, there are already “smart” checklists. They are not only shown electronically on displays and can be edited by mouse click or even as a touch screen, but are also dynamic. The correct checklist is always displayed or can be called up accordingly from a wide range of topics. Sensors at various technical areas of the aircraft are linked to the central flight computer. If a certain component does not function correctly, or if a switch is not in the correct position, this is detected by the system. The pilot is requested to take action.

The “Bible”

Basically, most manufacturers distinguish between checklists for normal, everyday operation (Normal Checklist) and those for emergencies (Non-Normal Checklist). These are given to the pilot after he has received basic training for the aircraft (type rating). They are the “bible” of each aircraft and guide the crews through adapted procedures to ensure that they can work as error-free as possible.

Checklists in the Cockpit
© Wikimedia Commons Laurent Errera

Memory items

Before you get the impression that everything can be read from the instruments, it has to be mentioned that there are also so-called “memory items” that every pilot must be able to recall from memory immediately, even at three o’clock in the morning, as if shot from a gun. These are time-critical events that require immediate action. A fire in the engine, loss of pressure, an approaching collision or wind shear are just a few examples.

But in order to relieve the pilots during operation, they make use of those very checklists. This frees up new capacity for more important tasks, such as flight guidance and navigation.

The “Normal Checklist”

The normal checklist usually begins before the flight with the “Preflight Checklist”. Here most of the basic requirements are called up and checked. It is followed by further checklists, which can be different depending on the type of aircraft. Checklists before and after take-off, as well as before the landing approach and also for turning off the engines are usually always included. Step-by-step, one pilot queries one point, the other pilot checks. In most cases they are not “read-and-do” but for cross-checking if everything has already been done. If a pilot has forgotten something, this is not a problem, because the checklist then asks him to perform the appropriate action.

“Non-Normal” Checklists

In the case of a non-normal event, the corresponding checklist is called out. Modern aircraft are even so clever that their numerous sensors can detect an error themselves and open the corresponding checklist for the pilot. Within this checklist, the pilot is always given the power to make a decision, or is led to decide at which fault an alternative landing is recommended.

The pilot has the possibility to interrupt the processing of a checklist at any time and continue it later. This is sometimes necessary to perform more important tasks. Sometimes even further checklists result from an error. The system makes suggestions, but the pilot can prioritize by himself. In this way the crew can gradually work through all mistakes and come to a decision.

All in the loop

When a checklist is completed, the pilot monitoring communicates this clearly so that everyone in the cockpit is in the so-called “loop”. A loop is a treatise, with clear structures and a beginning and an end. This logic should always be followed to keep all crew members “in the boat”.

The shorter and more concise checklists are, the more effective they are in use. If you have to work through complex checklists under the highest pressure, there is always the danger of ignoring other things.

Aviation has never been safer than it is today, and we owe this not least to the people who think hard about such aids as checklists.

Note from WingMag: Not only manned aviation benefits from checklists. Drone-fans are also recommended to use lists like the one here from SafeDrone by Lufthansa Technik (German website).

In the video you can follow the process of a check:


by Tim Takeoff

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