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Monday, January 26, 2015


Is it important for pilots to know why they do what they do?  I thinks so, but some might disagree.  I think we should talk about it.

I have stated before that my desire for this blog is to facilitate a dialog among aviation professionals.  I hope this post will initiate such a discussion. 

Standard Operating Policy (SOP) is the hallmark of private and commercial aviation.  It describes in detail the steps that are to be taken to accomplish a specific action or task. Is it relevant or required to know what the SOP is supposed to accomplish or why it is important?  Must SOP compliance accomplish a specific objective or may compliance be its own objective with no other purpose?

I would like for readers to “weigh in” on this subject based on a specific example.  Therefore, I pose these questions….

As a single pilot or a pilot in command of a multi crew aircraft, what is my responsibility in the following scenario?   I am landing on a runway that I have landed on many times before.  The aircraft is at a normal landing weight and I have landed at this weight many times before. There are no weather considerations and the wind is less than 10mph.  The runway is clear and dry.

Must I compute landing distance for this landing?  If the answer is no, why is it not required?  If the answer is yes, why is it mandatory?  If the only reason to obtain landing data is because it is included in SOP is that a valid reason? Is computing distance the same as evaluating landing performance?

Finally, should a single SOP be written for all conditions or should SOP be based on the relevant conditions?


  1. You have asked a couple of questions. So let's address the question, "Must I follow SOP?

    I believe SOP's, whether you agree with or dis-agree with should be followed, unless there are other underlying issues that would keep you from honoring (I.e exercising emergency authority or a conflict between opposing SOP's).

    Your next question pertains to calculating landing distance for each flight. So, in your scenario, there are 3 probable actions.
    1. Intentional non-compliance - just don't do for no reason other than you feel not necessary (I'm not going to weigh in on this one)
    2. Crew looks up the landing distance for each flight, even if conditions are always the same (I.e. Same airport, same weather, same weight, etc)
    3. Crew interprets the SOP requirement as already been fulfilled because they had the same flight last week and nothing has changed. On top of that, The pilots have looked at the chart and found that for a max weight landing at 1000' elevation, with no tailwind, dry conditions, landing in the defined touchdown zone and determined that if the runway is less than this value, The airplane can safely stop on this particular runway. In this crews mind, the runway data has been checked.

    In my mind, this last possible action fulfills the requirement of SOP.

    I also wanted to comment on the title of this Blog, " Why do we do what we do". This really has two perspectives, a company view and pilot view.

    It's probably a safe bet that the reason the company has come up with this procedure is that some event or events have happened that warrants a response. Maybe it was an over-run (s), FOQA data showing close calls, who knows. Sometimes we just have to have faith that the reason for this SOP is warranted and we are not privy to the why. (Why we are not, I'm not sure, but that is for another discussion).

    The second why pertains to us, the pilot. We have to ask why we are doing this. Are we doing this exercise to fulfill a requirement set by the company. Or, are we evaluating to determine if it is safe to land. If the runway length is 8000 feet and we determine a landing distance from the landing chart of 7999 ft, are we safe? If the answer is yes, what about 8001 ft?

    Giving the company the benefit of the doubt, maybe the intended outcome of the SOP is in hopes it would generate discussion on the threats associated with a landing and not perceived as the company suggesting safety all boils down to one number on a chart. Maybe it is an SOP for the 1%. Maybe it is just a poorly written or thought out procedure.

    Research has found that if an individual perceives a task as having no intrinsic value, that task will we minimized or ignored. They have found that we have a set amount of mental capacity, and utilizing this finite capacity on tasks such as looking up landing data for the same conditions repeatedly as a waste. In complex environments such as ours, this cognitive resource is better utilized performing other tasks.

    I'm not suggesting that the landing distance is not important and should be ignored. I am suggesting that in and by itself, this number is invalid and can lead to a false sense of safety. If we know that our landing runway is sufficient (I.e 11,000 feet, dry, sea level, no tailwind, etc.), wouldn't our time be better spent on discussing the threats vs heads down time and mental spent in an FMC. Are we conditioning ourselves to relating safe operations to a number.

    Maybe the previous 3 paragraphs explain why I feel scenario 3 meets SOP.

    Maybe the SOP should read Landing Distance & Threats....... Discussed.

    1. Thank you for the comment. Let me see if I understand your perspective.

      Sooo....What I hear you saying is that satisfying the intent (if you can discern it) of the SOP counts as compliance even if it is not performed verbatim.

  2. Yes... By definition, isn't one of the criteria of a violation based on intent?

  3. Pilots do what they do because they operate in a severely flawed system far too large to even minimally address here. But, for the sake of argument:

    What should we expect when aircraft designed to fly for 16 hours are piloted by folks using ineffective regulations--formulated from bad science and wrong perspectives--to guide their decision making?

    All the SOP's in the world won't help that.