Communicate Your Actions

As a pilot in the right seat, you can be an invaluable asset to the pilot flying. Whether you are a certified flight instructor or not, you can help the pilot in case of an emergency, or if a critical action or an ATC call is missed. You can step in and handle the issue at hand. However, it is important that you communicate the actions you take.

Clearly, if you answer an ATC call on behalf of a pilot who doesn't respond, that pilot will hear your communication. But there are some actions that may go unnoticed unless you call them out. It could be a simple thing such as leaning out the mixture on the ground or in the air. Or it could be something more critical such as reentering a frequency that was entered incorrectly. But before you make any changes, make sure that you are not making things worse. I once flew with a pilot who, for whatever reason, changed the frequency I was using without saying anything. Fortunately I noticed fairly quickly, but it could have been a very serious problem had we been flying IFR.

As an instructor, unless you see an issue that requires immediate attention, the best course of action is to give your student a hint at the item that needs fixing. Instead of pushing the controls forward if the student gets too slow, simply say "check your airspeed" or something like that. If the student is getting close to an airport and doesn't check ATIS, say something like: "what should you be doing right now?" The student or pilot may think of something else that needs to be done. If that is the case, let the pilot complete that task and say "what else?" Unless it is a time-critical item, the pilot will learn a lot more by figuring it out than to have you do it.

If the pilot is overwhelmed, go ahead and take action. But don't touch anything in the cockpit without verbalizing what you do. Letting the pilot in command know what you are doing not only makes him or her aware and teaches the pilot what her or she missed, it makes the flight a lot safer too.

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Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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