Avoid distraction to prevent CFIT

(An article and video from the EASA and the European Safety Promotion Network – Rotorcraft with initial concept and filming by Mathieu Vandenavenne, Safety For Flight) 

There are many things that can distract a pilot during a flight.  Maximise your situational awareness by always asking yourself “how much time do I spend looking outside the cockpit window?”   

There various causes of Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents.  Loss of situational awareness is one of the main risks you can face as a pilot.  There are many things that can distract a pilot and it is important to manage your workload effectively to ensure that you are always aware of potential hazards, don’t forget to look out of the window to maintain your situational awareness.  

The challenge

With the help of former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen, our video highlights exactly this type of situation.  Distractions from changing air traffic requirements, in cockpit equipment and weather can easily build up to make a simple flight suddenly much more difficult.  It can be easy to channel your attention towards the problem and lose focus on the bigger picture.  

Key things to consider

There are a number of things that pilots can do in the different phases of flight to mitigate the risks that may lead to a CFIT accident.  Being prepared in advance can greatly reduce the risk of distraction and the potential for accidents:

  • Pre-Flight Preparation:  
    • Have you prepared your flight effectively so that you are clear about your route (GPS points, ATS/ATC frequencies, VORs/NDBs frequencies, etc.)? 
    • Have you checked terrain and defined flight altitude (Minimum Safe Altitude) accordingly?
    • Have you prepared for unexpected situations, like inadvertent IMC (anticipated self-briefing, IFR charts/approach plates, ATC/ILS frequencies, etc.)?
    • Do you have the necessary weather information available?  
    • Do you have enough fuel on board – including contingencies?
    • Do you know your aircraft, its equipment and its limitations?
    • Is your aircraft equipped with TAWS and other situational awareness raising technologies? Do you know how to properly use this equipment?
    • Have you checked that the fixed or Portable Electronic Devices (PED) you will use during flight as navigation aid has a database updated with latest information?
    • Are you sure that the device will not obstruct the controls during your flight?
    • Have you considered what risks you might face during your flight?  
    • Did you prepare the cockpit for the planned navigation/mission settings?
  • During the Flight:  
    • Are you able to continuously monitor your position and know where you are in relation to the terrain?
    • Have you anticipated things that might change in flight considered how to react?  
    • If the weather is deteriorating, are you able to get the latest weather update from your destination?
    • When operating equipment in the cockpit, how much time do you spend looking outside?  
  • Post Flight:  
    • Were you familiar with flight display systems, radio setting, avionics, TAWS, Portable Electronic Devices (PED)?
    • How accurate was your Navigation?
    • Did you always respect Airspace Boundaries and Minimum Safe Altitude?
    • Did you well manage your “in-flight workload”?
    • In case, are you clear about what to improve for your next flight?

Remember the key principle is always to Aviate, Navigate, and Communicate (in that order).

Manage your attention and balance the time spent “Head Down” against “Head Up”.  

Watch the video !