Avoiding Complacency

Errors can happen when a pilot becomes too comfortable.

Complacency is one of the biggest enemies pilots face. As we go about our business accomplishing flight-related tasks, over time they can become rote actions performed without the necessary forethought to ensure we’re not acting out of habit.

The NTSB is warning pilots of several recent incidents where pilots pulled a lever or hit a switch and expected to see a certain cockpit indication but never took the time to verify that what they expected to happen actually did.

It has even happened in several cases with seasoned flight crews flying airliners and corporate jets, such as making the call for takeoff flaps and never verifying that the flaps are actually set to the takeoff position. Depending on the airplane and the runway, that can be a deadly error.

The NTSB cautions that all pilots can be vulnerable to making errant callouts if they become complacent by allowing “habits and expectations to influence their responses.” Taking concrete steps to direct attention, methodically verify the status of a checklist item and make callouts using standard phraseology can reduce your chances of making errors.

What else can you do to avoid making such mistakes? For starters, remain vigilant and never respond out of habit when running through a checklist. For every callout, there should be a corresponding indication or setting. Train yourself to direct your attention to the indicator or display long enough to be sure of what the indicator is telling you every time. Physically touching a control or pointing to an indicator can be helpful as well.

Also, make a point of giving and receiving proper responses to checklist callouts every time. Improper or nonstandard phraseology, nods, mumbles, and nonverbal signals are never acceptable in the cockpit.

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