Effective Briefings

As pilots we have to conduct lots of briefings. In the short haul arena, you may have multiple sectors of flying ahead. That can result in a lot of words. Yet, it’s not an area we tend to revisit often for techniques and development. Sometimes we get lazy or complacent with our briefings, particularly if it’s the 4th sector back to your home base at the end of a long and challenging day. We stick to the same format and give it little thought. If this is the case, you can guarantee that these briefings are not effective. This article is designed to get you thinking about your objectives when briefing and to arm you with a few techniques to deliver on these.

What briefings do we complete?

Check in – At report we will study the route briefing for the day; weather, NOTAMS, technical handouts and performance. This is usually used to ensure compliance with flight planning rules and arrive at a fuel decision for the sector. 

Joint Briefing – Meet with the Cabin Crew prior to arriving at the aircraft – General discussion will focus on introductions, passing some flight information on sector length, weather, turbulence, technical issues and an opportunity for Cabin Crew to share their knowledge and any special passenger handling requests e.g. disabilities, medical cases and infants. 

Pre-Departure Briefing – An opportunity to discuss the taxi, take-off, departure along with an emergency brief. 

Approach Briefing – An opportunity to discuss the arrival, approach, landing, go-around and taxi in for parking. 

Abnormal Briefing – Usually follows an unexpected event and should be preceded by a decision-making process (T-DODAR, FORDEC etc)

What is the purpose of these briefings?

  • To share our knowledge with our colleagues and to allow them to share theirs. 
  • To identify threats and agree on methods for managing these threats. 
  • To ensure compliance with aviation regulation and company SOPs; flight planning criteria, performance, fuel decisions. 
  • To rehearse key manoeuvres and emergency procedures to improve execution should it occur. 
  • To ensure the aircraft is correctly prepared for the next phase of flight (FMS/FMGC programming). 
  • To make sure everyone is clear on their role for the next phase of flight. 
  • Ultimately, to enhance the Situational Awareness of the entire team. 

What style of briefing will lead to enhanced SA? 

Interactive – To build high team SA, it has to be a team briefing where all of the team contribute.

Engaging – We all have to be motivated to contribute, listen to each other and empowered to contribute.

Relevant – It needs to focus on the most important issues, and not everything else.

Concise – The pertinent information needs to be absorbed and assimilated.

Questions 

If you want to understand and benefit from the SA of your team, you are going to need to solicit that information from them. Briefings shouldn’t be one-way and you shouldn’t be on transmit only. By asking questions we change communication to two-way and it is much more robust. 

There are different types of questions. No type is always right or wrong, it’s about choosing the appropriate type for the context. 

Open – Gives receiver space to express their views. They cannot be answered by Yes or No. They require more information from the receiver. “What could catch us out on this approach?”

Closed – These can only be answered with a Yes or No. “Do you expect the ILS?”

Active – These questions give the receiver the direction to structure their reply and targets a specific area. “What will be your actions if I call ‘Go-Around’?” 

Try to avoid Leading Questions, as these make it difficult for your colleague to challenge. They are inclined to agree. For example, “It’s always Runway 04 here, isn’t it?”. 

Threats

What is the priority item to brief? The most important thing is to work out how you are going to manage the key threats to that departure or arrival. If you do this successfully, your brief has been effective. Yes, there will be certain mandatory items that must be covered, and these are important, but the focus of the brief should be the threats specific to that arrival/departure. What is going to catch us out today? 

Threat and Error Management is an expansive subject. However, in its simplest form the key objective is to identify the threats and then agree strategies to Avoid, Trap and Mitigate these threats. 

For example, should you be planning an approach and notice from the weather obtained that there are Thunderstorms in the area you could ask your colleague what threat this represents, and they may reply Windshear.

Avoid – Is it sensible to commence the approach at this time? If not, where is safe to hold or what diversion options do we have? If it is ok to commence which routing can we accept? Is this runway the best one? Should we configure the aircraft differently? Should we add a correction to our approach speed?

Trap – How would we execute a missed approach if the Thunderstorm got worse? Where would be safe to go? What would we do if we got a predictive windshear warning? What speed variations should we call and what do we think is acceptable?

Mitigate – What are the actions for a Reactive Windshear Warning? How would we recognize Severe Windshear if the aircraft didn’t alert us? What would we do?

Preparation

If you start a brief without any warning and start asking questions of your colleague, you are unlikely to get quality answers. Consider giving them time to prepare. Announce when you are planning to start your brief and suggest some areas they look at in advance (Weather, Airfield Plates, FMS coding). Go as far as telling them when we start the brief, I’m going to ask you for the 3 biggest threats that you’ve identified. This forces them to give it consideration and enhances the quality of the answers you’ll receive. It’s also a lot nicer to be on the receiving end of questions you feel prepared for. 

Empower Team Members to Monitor, Challenge and Intervene

At the briefing stage it’s important that you set a tone that empowers your colleagues to monitor you effectively and to be able to challenge you or intervene should you make an error, become overloaded and lose your SA. It’s really easy to do but unless you encourage it, your colleague will be hesitant to say something for fear of offending you. This is not the dynamic you want. 

Consider saying something like “We all make mistakes, if I make any today, I would be grateful if you could let me know” Or even better would be specific instructions such as, “On this approach, I plan to be at 3000ft, 180 kts, configured Flaps 1 at 10nm. If you don’t think I will achieve this, or if you think I have missed this gate please bring it to my attention” In this scenario you have shared your plan. So, your colleague knows exactly what to monitor and has clear guidance when and how they should intervene. This is an impactful briefing. 

No two briefings should ever be the same

When we operate to the same destinations regularly it can be easy to grow complacent. However, this makes it all the more important we look for the differences today and what threats there are to manage. 

Weather changes all of the time. Especially at coastal locations or in mountains terrain topographical wind variations can make for last minute changes. Airfield facilities can change due to maintenance or failure. Aircraft systems can also fail. One day our aircraft could be a maximum take-off weight or Maximum Landing Weight and the next day it could be an empty ferry flight. All of these changes can make a previous briefing almost entirely redundant. 

Take Nice, LFMN as an example:

Diagram, map

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Above we have 2 plates. One for the Visual Approach for Runways 04L/R and an RNP Approach for Runways 22L/R. Some common threats for any approach into Nice will be terrain, multiple runways, Wind associated turbulence and sea breeze, noise abatement etc

Now consider the 2 scenarios:

Day 1:

Daylight. Runway in use 04L. Weather: Wind 350/10, CAVOK, OAT 30/15, 1015 HPa

Day 2:

Nighttime. No ATIS available. MET Wind 040/08, Cloud B015, Visibility 5000m, OAT 10/08, 1025 HPa

You can see here that the slight change in weather has made a significant difference to the approach available and has introduced many more threats. What are VFR rules at nighttime and what do we need to see? What happens if we get to minimums and no visual reference is obtained? How do we manage a tailwind? 

Try to always look for the new and different threats when preparing for and conducting a brief and be sure not to fall into the trap of assuming it will be the same as last time! 

Approach Bucket

An effective method for structuring an abnormal briefing is the approach bucket. Brief the threats and how you plan to manage those for the three phases:  Approach, Landing, Go-around. 

For example, if we had a hydraulic fault it may be that we configure the aircraft differently on the approach and fly at different speeds. For the landing there may be some systems that are inoperative and therefore they may affect controllability and landing distance. The go-around strategy may be different depending on whether you have the ability to retract flaps and landing gear and as such performance may be affected and require management. 

Hopefully, this article gives you some reminders and some fresh ideas about how to develop your briefing techniques. There is no right or wrong way as such and this isn’t designed to be prescriptive guidance. It is for you to choose and practice the methods that work for you and are relevant to the briefing that you are conducting. We hope it helps.

Safe flying!


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