Scenario #5: Crew resource management (CRM).

You are a first officer at a busy commuter airline. You feel very fortunate because you were able to come out of your college program, straight into the right seat of a Beech King Air 200, while many of your classmates are flying around in Cessna 180s and 206s. The company you are working for has been around for many years, but recently expanded to almost double its size and added many new routes. It is trying to change its image from that of a northern bush operation to a professional airline, with connections to a major air carrier. You joined the company two months ago, along with six other pilots, and have been through a great deal of training and orientation. They taught you about the standard operating procedures (SOP), and encouraged you to use them. They acknowledged that many older captains would not be using them, but they hoped to slowly change them and urged you not to give up on the SOPs.

You have been paired with most of the captains and are constantly surprised by the diversity of expectations that the captains have of your role in the cockpit. The company SOPs are quite clear and you have memorized them, so that you know what you are supposed to do at every phase of the flight. Unfortunately, none of the captains seems to know the SOPs nearly as well as you do, and they are constantly deviating from them, leaving you wondering what they will do next. Some of the captains are quite good and generally stick to the SOPs, with the exception of some terminology and certain calls. Other captains ignore the SOPs from the start-up to the shut-down. They seem to ignore you for most of the flight, except when you fail to do something that they expected you to do, and then they become irate and impatient. Today you are paired with the second kind of captain, so you know it will be a frustrating day.

You arrive at the flight-planning room on time, but the captain is not there yet. You check the weather and find that it is a solid IFR day, with ceilings expected to be quite low all day, and low visibility for the morning due to drizzle. You look through the logbook and find that it is snag free. This is a pleasant surprise since there are frequently one or two deferred defects on the airplane making the flight a little more difficult.

The captain finally arrives and you start to tell him about the weather, but he dismisses your comments by saying, “I've got eyes, I can see the weather.” He asks you if the walk around is done and you tell him that you were just heading out. He tells you to get cracking or the flight will be late.

As you finish the walk around, the captain zips into the airplane and by the time you are closing the door he has already started the engines and is taxiing from the hangar to the terminal. You make your way forward to the right seat, but he motions you back telling you to just stand by the door so that you can open the door and start loading passengers as soon as you arrive at the terminal. When you arrive at the terminal you open the door, and put on your best "confident pilot" smile as passengers walk up the airstair door and into the cabin. The captain remains in his seat. You help load the passengers’ baggage and then move to the front of the cabin to give the passengers their safety briefing. By the time the briefing is complete and you get settled in your seat with the headset on, the captain has the engines started, the avionics set, and he is reading back the IFR clearance. You pull out the checklist and run through it quietly to see if he has missed anything up to that point. He hasn't missed a thing. You call out the next check “TAXI CHECK.” In response, his hands move quickly around the cockpit, flipping the appropriate switches, and checking the appropriate gauges. “Taxi check complete,” he says—so much for the challenge and response checklist that the SOPs call for.

Undaunted, you call for the next check, “BEFORE TAKE-OFF CHECK.” But the captain is pre-occupied with a radio call to dispatch that has turned into a discussion of the baseball game they are scheduled to play in the evening. Tower calls you with an amendment to your departure clearance, so you quickly handle that call on the other radio while the captain continues his conversation. He ends his conversation as you roll onto the runway, and he quickly accomplishes the before take-off checks without any input from you. You brief him on the amended departure and for once he actually listens to you. “OK, you have the radios and I have the controls,” he says in an apparent attempt at a take-off briefing. The departure, climb and cruise are fairly uneventful, though you are more of a passenger than a crew member. The captain provides no briefings and ignores your attempts to call out the checklists. Apparently, he believes you are a passenger handler and radio tuner.

As you near the destination, ATC clears you to the airport for an approach. The captain brings the throttles back to flight idle and starts a descent. You pull out the checklist and quietly double check that all the items in the descent check are covered. As usual he has done everything right, except for the approach briefing. You notice that he has the approach plate out for the NDB approach, even thought there is a GPS approach available with lower minimums. The NDB approach does not line you up with the runway, and requires a circling approach, while the GPS approach allows for a straight in landing. What do you do?

The captain has ignored you up to this point, so what is the point of speaking up now?  He knows that the other approach exists, and he must have some reason for not using it.  Asking him about this will only create tension in the cockpit, as he will feel that you are questioning his judgment.  Might as well stay quiet and go along with this.

One of your duties as a first officer is to monitor the captain. Another part of the first officer role is to learn from the captain.  Therefore it makes sense to question the captain so that you can be sure he has considered all the options and if he has, you can learn about the factors that went into the captain's decision.