Safety Briefings

What should one do when a task is received?

by Charlie Marais


When I pose this question to pilots, and non-pilots for that matter, the answer is usually fairly accurate. I am not, however, not always sure that we fully understand why we have to do certain things. I also find that the answer is usually quite random in its approach, but again with a little prompting the answers start to make sense and become applicable.

In this short brief I would like to try and make sense of the reasoning behind our actions.  Although my approach may differ from yours, I believe it should bring some clarity as to why we do certain things in a certain way at a certain time.


Planning is the first thing you should do when you receive a task or a mission.  The question now is what is the purpose of planning?  If there could be a single concept embedded in the actions of planning, what would the reasoning be?

Again I hear all the correct reasoning such as "to get to do the task effectively and efficiently"; "to be able to see if the task can be done"; "to understand the parameters of the task" and many more.


In my opinion we simply plan to create expectations.  Think of it in this way: when you plan any task you would for instance determine the following:

  • Where do I have to go geographically? Normally this will trigger or show other places or features that one can expect to see on the way.
  • What is the expected groundspeed under the expected weather conditions?
  • How long will the legs take to fly?
  • What is the expected fuel burn (consumption) and thus the fuel required for the task?
  • What frequencies will come into play and when should I make use of these frequencies?
  • What alternates could I use and the expectations of actually diverting to such diversions?
  • What approach and runway can I expect?
  • Where can I expect to park, pay the fees and file the next flight plans?
  • Who would meet me there? Where can I stay? What would the transport arrangements be on the other side?
  • How long do I expect to be there and when will the flight back be scheduled for?
  • Inside the cockpit I would expect certain behaviours from the aircraft such as temps and pressures, fuel burns, oil usage, other instrument behaviours and so on.

I think I have made my point.  Everything we plan creates a certain expectation which is to be achieved at a certain stage on the timeline of the task or operation.  This"roadmap" is merely a plan filled with expectations.  Only if the expected does not realise will we know that the actual plan is not being realised.


During the planning process I will ensure that I have the means to meet all expectations.  I will leave nothing to chance.  I will have a plan B if plan A is not achievable, or if the plan does not pan out the way I expected it to be.

Once I am happy that I have covered all the aspects and that the task is achievable, I can tackle the task with confidence.

My plan is achievable.


We have now reached the point of putting action to our planning; which leads to the next question.  What is it that you do during the execution of the task?

Again there are many approaches to this, but what we are actually doing is continually monitoring the progress of our flight.  We are taught to do Ts and Ps at least every 10 minutes, or the so called FREDAS checks.  I prefer to call it "System Checks".  Only the big modern machines are designed to tell us loud and clear when things are getting out of order.  When there is a difference or change in performance that was not initiated by me or any other very obvious factor, I call this difference a Delta ( ^ ).  A delta exists simply when you get something which you did not expect.  You can only expect what you planned for; knew to be as such; or what is general common sense.   Be careful of the last one.  Common sense implies that there is sense to start off with and sense is the result of some form of awareness, either through tuition, experimentation or experience.  Let us say that the cylinder head temperature should be 400°C during cruise power setting and this time the temperature is 480°C. Then delta tells me that something is not right.  It may be that the mixture, power, cowls or something is not set correctly.


Awareness depends on alertness which in turn depends on how well we are rested, how fit we are and how well prepared we are.  Make no mistake; awareness also depends on subject and environmental knowledge and good planning in order to know what and how to look for deltas.

The thing with an occurring delta is that we can follow the continual deviation from the expected, but again only if we are alert.  If we follow the recipe of monitoring the progress during the execution of the plan; we keep the scan on air vehicle performance parameters and we are vigilant concerning changes in the environment in which we fly, the chances are good that we will pick up the deltas.


Let us have a look at where knowledge comes into play.  Firstly, I must say that research has revealed that the lack of knowledge in one or another form contributes around 20% to accidents.  Knowledge is the baseline for making good decisions.  It takes knowledge to plan our expectations.  Knowledge of the air vehicle's expected performance and performance parameters ensure that we can pick up any deviations with understanding.  It is planning that reveals that which we do not know and even better, that which we did not know that we do not know.  The lowest form of knowing is not to know what your lack of knowledge entails.  No matter how we say it, it is planning that reveals the shortage of knowledge of skills in a task we want to achieve.


When we have honed our skills in preparing the plan as well as in becoming aware of deviations, we have a better chance to detect a change and in turn to handle the change.


A bit late I would say if things start to go wrong and you had no prior planning, no plan B or insufficient knowledge and so on.  A person with a good attitude is one that hears the way things must be done, acquires the necessary knowledge and skills and then applies it diligently.  When the chips are down it is a little late to regret having taken short cuts, or not having paid attention.


When a change occurs, whether it is a seemingly positive or negative one, we need to use our knowledge gained through studying, through operational planning, through experience and gained through enhanced situational awareness to make a decision on how best to handle or manage the delta.

The quality of your decision is directly in relation to your awareness of the situation as well as your knowledge pertaining to the delta environment.

Let us say you have a constantly changing oil pressure.  Do you have sufficient knowledge of the air vehicle technical to be able to know and address all the possibilities that may have caused it?

If you need to communicate in English, you had better understand and have the ability to use the language. So too, if you need to communicate with your air vehicle, you need to know the technical as well as how to apply this technical knowledge.

The quality of your decision determines the quality of your actions after a delta occurs.


Once you have your decision it is time to implement it and then you have to monitor the new result and compare that with your expectation.  If no delta exists, your decision was sound.  If the delta remains, the decision was not correct.  If a new delta occurs, you must re-assess your criteria and make another decision.  Your decisions directly influence your present situation, your past situations and will determine your future.  Is it advisable to second guess your future through a lack of responsibility towards yourself in knowing as well as to have the ability to use such knowledge?


Decisions are required when deltas occur.  To declare something a delta there should have been an expectation versus an operational result.  You cannot know what is wrong if you do not know what is right.  To have had any expectations, planning should have been done.  Planning can only be done properly if knowledge exists.  Planning will reveal all knowledge as well as skills shortages, which can be addressed before doing the task.

As poor planning leads to poor performance, no planning leaves everything to chance. Chance has no guarantees, creates false expectations and the result is left to chance.

Aviation definitely does not happen by chance!