Tag: emergency checklist

Paper versus electronic QRH

In the last several years, airlines have made the transition to electronic flight bags. Nowhere is this more common than with charts and flight manuals, and the reasons are obvious. Updates are automatic; currency of publications is assured; and the decreased weight saves fuel.

An often-overlooked issue from the past was on-the-job injuries, which were very common because of shoulder and back injuries sustained from manipulating the bags (some airplanes were worse than others for causing injuries).

But there are still some skirmishes being fought. For years, pilots have relied on paper quick reference handbooks (QRHs), which contain Abnormal and Emergency checklists. The temptation is to switch to an electronic QRH for some of the same reasons: cost, efficiency, currency, et cetera. However, there has been some strong pushback from pilots on this, and for good reason.

The paper QRH might be a last resort, and it doesn’t have a battery that can die or overheat. It also isn’t prone to fat finger dialing. Imagine, if you will, the adrenaline rush that kicks in during some of the more dire emergencies, such as a catastrophic engine failure, a pressurization issue, or some other calamity. The electronic checklists often have hot-links in them, and during a bumpy ride or one in which your nerves have your fingers shaking, it can be easy to make a mistake and tap the wrong link, which can lead to confusion. Or worse.

Another advantage of a paper QRH is the ability to pass the book back and forth, if necessary, without worrying about bumping the screen and triggering an unexpected change. One compromise that some airlines have reached with their pilot and union reps is to ensure that there is at least one paper QRH on board versus the two that some had. Pilots are usually asked to demonstrate proficiency with the tablets in the classroom or the simulator, but they have discretion as to which one to use. Most find it easier not to have to worry about toggling between multiple apps when dealing with abnormal procedures.

The electronic flight bag is definitely here to stay, as it should be. It’s a great tool, and it needs to be utilized as much as possible. Sometimes, the old adage “less is more” applies. This definitely applies, in my opinion, to the QRH. I also sometimes wish we still had paper maintenance logs, which didn’t have as much of the tracking history in them, which made it easier to find more recent trends if you needed them.

Life is much easier with the electronic flight bag, and I have no desire to go back to paper charts, revisions, or 40-pound bags of dead weight. I do miss a few of the advantages of paper, but the one tool I don’t want to lose is my paper QRH. Here’s hoping that the airlines will recognize that is a small expense to be paid for an easy enhancement to safety.—Chip Wright

The non-memory-item memory items

Just about every airline or corporate flight department—and for sure the military—has a certain number of checklists that are considered to be memory items. That is, they are considered so important that, when needed, the pilot doesn’t have time to look up the checklist and go through it line by line. Therefore, the checklist must be committed to memory. Some of these are fairly obvious, such as certain fire warnings, sudden cabin depressurizations, or a rejected takeoff.

Most of the time, the carrier determines the checklists that are designated as memory items, and there is usually a bias toward certain items based on the experience of the company, or of the fleet manager. Sometimes, the memory items are determined by one of the local FAA oversight personnel—again based on his or her past experience and/or unfamiliarity with a particular airplane—and sometimes by the manufacturer. Some carriers take things overboard and have far too many memory items.

But what about non-memory-item checklists? Are any that are not memory items actually memory items? Yes. A common example is the rejected takeoff.

Considering the speeds at which a rejected takeoff can take place, this makes sense. In nearly every jet airplane, the speed brakes should extend when the thrust levers are brought to idle, thus killing the lift of the wings and getting the weight of the airplane back on the tires, which improves stopping performance. The operative word is “should.”

Some operators have a specific rejected takeoff memory item that includes checking or manually deploying the handle, and thus the speed brakes. This shouldn’t really be necessary, because you can feel immediately if the speed brakes have deployed, but somewhere, somebody decided this is a good idea. And so it is.

Another non-memory-item memory item is the wind-shear recovery procedure. Again, this is something that is occurring in a fast-paced, dynamic environment, close to the ground. Considering the severity of the situation, it isn’t the time to be pulling out a manual to look something up.

Generally speaking, a memory item is something that you only have one chance to get right, and survival may depend on the outcome. But, as I mentioned, airlines can go overboard with this as well. At my first carrier, we had to memorize an unnecessarily complex emergency evacuation procedure that was too easy to mess up, and would have been difficult to perform correctly in the stress of an emergency with adrenaline pumping and your mind racing. A good memory item is one with only a couple of steps, and when possible, it is similar to other checklists to ease its recall.

However, the procedures that are not necessarily referred to as memory items but need to be committed to memory are just as important. Learn them, commit them to memory, and review them, so that when you need them, your performance is flawless.