If you’re getting ready for your first job in a turboprop or a jet, you’re about to get introduced to the quick reference handbook (QRH). The QRH has all of the abnormal and emergency checklists in it, based on the equipment and furnishings on the airplane. At the very least, the manufacturer-designated checklists will be included, but often the company or operator will include its own procedures. This book is kept on the flight deck.

QRHs are usually written in some kind of an outline or flow-chart like format, with the intention of minimizing confusion for the pilots. However, lawyers are also involved, as are government representatives, and confusion still finds a way to rear its ugly head. Sometimes the confusion is difficult to avoid because the checklist has to work its way through several potential scenarios to troubleshoot and isolate a problem. Electrical and smoke issues are good examples. Some engine problems can be as well.

Adding to the problem are stress and compressed time. It’s very easy to write a checklist sitting at a desk or in a procedures trainer. It’s something different to determine how things will play out when the actual emergency is underway with a crew or a pilot that may be (pick a few) inexperienced; tired; scared; asleep; undisciplined; poorly trained; or sick. I’ve never seen a QRH that is perfect, and I doubt I ever will. In fact, just turning the page can be an issue. Some QRHs have different options based on what is occurring, and when a page is turned, it’s possible to lose track of which flow of information you’re using.

More and more crews are using electronic flight bags, but there are plenty of paper QRHs still on the flight decks. Paper doesn’t break or require electricity to use, and some books are just too hard to manipulate or use on a tablet, since you can’t mark several places with your finger.

The key to QRH use is to understand the layout of the book, and to use it exactly as intended. Don’t go beyond the scope of the particular problem you’re trying to solve. Too often, you’ll just make the situation worse. When the QRH says to “confirm” something, that almost always means asking the other pilot to verify that you have the correct switch or engine. More than once, I’ve seen a pilot shut down the wrong engine in a sim because he rushed and didn’t give me a chance to verify the correct engine was about to be secured.

Sometimes, the manufacturer will put a checklist in one chapter of the QRH when logic would dictate that it should be in another. For example, some engine issues are addressed in the chapter that deals with fires. Occasionally, a message that indicates as an abnormal is addressed as an emergency in the QRH. For the most part, all you can do is roll with it.

Changing a QRH is daunting, but not impossible. The aforementioned lawyers and bureaucrats want their say, but when real-world experience dictates, QRHs get changed. And that’s another challenge: It’s important to be at least tangentially aware of those changes.

The QRH is a great tool, and in the airline world, you’ll be more familiar with it than you want to be. But, it only helps you when you use it correctly, slowly, and as intended.—Chip Wright