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Unofficial SOPís

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Unofficial SOPís

Old 2nd Feb 2004, 20:50
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Question Unofficial SOPís

I was prompted to write this after reading the thread(s) about B737 Bus Lights over on tech-log and the different ways in which we seem to operate the same aircraft.

I think we probably all acknowledge that the definitive way to do anything is that which is published by Boeing in the Vol 1, 2, QRH or FCTM (or your manufacturers equivalent). However on top of that you have to overlay your individual companies manuals and SOPís, these are also legally binding because they have been approved by their countries regulatory authorities. Before you know where you are, you find yourself having to look in 5 books to see if you are doing something the ďcorrectĒ way.

Unfortunately there is a third level of ďunofficial SOPísĒ which filter down to the line from people who flew the same type for a different company, people who flew a different type for the same company, trainers/managers with their own theories or just line pilots who may have heard or read something, perhaps even on these pages.

Many of these USOPís are founded on personal experience, technical knowledge, hearsay, superstition (OK perhaps not!) or just plain airmanship. I myself have a few of these USOPís which I have developed for probably all of the above reasons.

In general I think that to have a couple of these is probably harmless. But where it becomes a problem is when you the Captain try and impose them on your poor F/O as gospel or when they start to interfere with the normal flow of operations. I know I have been guilty of this in the past and it really takes some self discipline to look at your own operation and stick precisely to the printed word, wherever it may be written!

Perhaps an example would help. The author of the generators on-line thread referred to above (whom I know to be a very experienced operator of the type) asks ďIs it SOP to check the AC meters before putting the generators on-line?Ē I am sure that technically the answer is no, but it is surely good airmanship and most people do it. The problem arises when a Captain, or even worse a trainer, picks up an F/O for not doing it and the conclusion is drawn that the poor chap is in some way lacking in diligence.

So where am I going with this rant? What is my solution? I donít know. I suppose I am asking: Is it possible, or even desirable, that we should all operate the same type of aircraft in exactly the same way regardless of which airline we work for?, that way no cross fertilisation of USOPís would be possible and it would surely be safer because we would all be operating ďthe correct wayĒ. After all, we canít all be operating the ďcorrectĒ way at the moment, even if we think we are.

I once spoke to a 737 pilot who said he had flown them for five different airlines and they all flew them differently and of course each airline thought they flew it the standard Boeing way. How can this be possible in an industry where every step is written down in such fine detail? A clue might be that my own airline bought the books straight from Boeing six years ago and have been tweaking the SOPís with memos ever since. Now, a further question is Where does that leave us legally if, god forbid, we have an accident? Will the lawyers say ďYour airlines SOPís might be the best we have ever seen, but they are not the correct ones Ė pay up.Ē.

Iíd better stop now before my soap-box gives way. Thoughts pleaseÖ

S&L

Last edited by CaptainSandL; 2nd Feb 2004 at 21:35.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 00:32
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I retired from BA a couple of years ago after 30 years. During that career I flew many different types, using entirely different operating philosophies. After a few years I found, somewhat to my surprise, that it didn't matter too much which operating system was used PROVIDED everybody used the same one.

Latterly BA changed to a standardised system across the fleets, making conversions much easier. Obviously fleet specific procedures override the standard system.

I would imagine that an individual pilot is cast iron legally provided that he/she was following SOPs. An airline might be legally at risk if it were shown that it had modified manufacturer's procedures, but that is not a line pilot's problem.

Unofficial items like ďIs it SOP to check the AC meters before putting the generators on-line?Ē often tend to follow the experiences/prejudices of the chief instructor or technical manager, and are generally not of great importance. On modern aircraft AC will not connect unless volts and frquency are correct - if this is not the case the manufacturer will specify checking. The USOP may reflect the chief trainer's experience from a previous type, and will often have become set in wet concrete as fleet policy.

Different airlines may well operate say the 737NG in very different ways. They all have had to demonstrate to their CAA/FAA etc. their competence to do so. The fact that 737 NGs do not drop out of the sky with great frequency shows that their particular operating philosophy works. In short, there is no "correct" way to operate an aircraft.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 00:57
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Sandl,

You throw the comment about the lawyers getting invovled reference SOP's. It is easy to say that because things are approved they must be correct and safe. I've seen manuals issued to crews, especially the cabin crew books, that are so full of mistakes that they cannot have been read and studied by the approving authority. This is also borne out by the very short interval between the manuls being submitted and their approval issued. There is no way they can have been read and studied over. The authorities just trust the FLT OPS department as being responsible for their own skins and equipment; it would seem.

(comments welcome from those in the know)

I wonder what the consequence would be in an incident where the crew slavishly followed the SOP, even though due to airmanship and other experience they were doubtful about them, the proverbial hit the fan, metal was bent etc. Could the lawyers intervene and charge the crew with neligent airmanship, even though they followed the SOP's? Perhaps a little unlikely, but I highlight this because it is true that, sometimes, we all think we have a better way to do somethings, and the occaisional SOP seems either plain wrong, unnecessary or just dumb, however we are nuked if we don't follow it.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 01:45
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All for SOPs but also reminded of Trenchards remarks that rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men (and women now I presume!) - by the way I am not ex military either!

It can be confusing for new FOs in particular when instructor pilots give (well meaning) advice which might SEEM to contradict the SOPs. Some matters do, I feel, come under the umbrella of Airmanship although they may not be "technically" in the SOPS. Checking the volts etc before putting a genny on line may not be required from a systems point of view but I seem to recall that on the B737 it was a good idea to check the volts etc before putting ground power on line in case the friendly ground crew chappie had selected the wrong parameters on his all singing dancing GPU!! Maybe this is where this habit has come from.

My advice is to have an open mind and take the bits you like from your experienced training captains since its based on a lot of hard experience! Get into the books and learn about the systems and see whether they are right. If they are worth their salt they will only be too glad to discuss your findings since this is how we all learn. That said SOPs are precisely that and should be adhered to but remember that Lord Nelson disobeyed orders to win a decisive battle but remember that if anything goes wrong its on your own head if you have not followed the SOPS!
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 02:28
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As Budjie says,after a few years one can decide the 'wheat from the chaff'regarding the information flow.It would be great to 'follow' the SOP's as they're suggested from the Manufacturer,but Individual Flt Ops Dep
artments have Chief Pilots?Fleet Managers who think up their own"Right way"(Company culture) of doing things..Next you have the training Dept,doing what the Fleet manager 'meant' by stipulating it that way.Then the Checkies dispensing their interpretation of what was said at the Checkpilots meeting(after a Beer lunch),or aren't abrest of the latest SOP amendment?
The only place it MAY come to fruition is the Quality of Sim' rides-did the guys do anything like the Standard in print???
One of the general Complaints ,throughout the Industry and the AirForces of the world is the Lack of Bull sessions between pilot groups(Bad weather stand downs/flight canx)whereas Pilots could raise questions and hear some experienced wisdom(in the eye of the beholder-wheat/chaff)..ergo junior pilots have Lost an opportunity the Learn from the mistakes of others etc...
Nowadays there is a little more Communucation between Co's Flt OPs Depts,to compare how 'simpsons'do it..
F/o's, with the advent of CRM ,can also quietly raise the question" thats awfully interesting information Captn,where Might I find it in the Reference/Manual??".......
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 03:46
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Spent my best years flying for my national and then headed to Europe. First people that I flew with here were Brit's and boy were they dissapointed when they found that I'd never heard of "altitude checks" every 10,000 feet! In some airlines 5,000 feet! I should've been dead years ago. So should my entire airl;ine have been.

I, quite honestly, still don't place the that much importance in them (even though I now do them) as my colleagues do... Given that the actual clearance and physical dialing in of the altitude are my (and my countrymen's) altitude checks, I find it difficult to see the importance of these (new) altitude checks. (For those who don't know what I'm on about: in some British airlines, each time an aircraft passes an altitude divisible by 10,000 they call out something to the effect of "Passing 20,000 feet for FL350, set, safe and armed").

Well, since we all do these checks, and most are convinced that they are promoting safe flight, I guess that they must be a good thing. Even if all that they do is to keep us talking to each other and ensure that we all (try) to stick to the SOP's. At the end of the day, I personally have learned a great deal more from grey bearded old men with their own little quircks than I have from the SOP that I blindly follow in my daily routine.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 03:58
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126.9 - how right you are!

The 10,000 ft altimeter check is a throw back to the days of 3 pointer altimeters which were easy to misread by 10,000 ft. Old habits die hard and your example is a good one!
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 05:19
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Arrow

Budgie69, you say that ďBA changed to a standardised system across the fleets, making conversions much easier.Ē Is this not part of the problem, ie that you are trying to operate the aircraft the BA way rather than the Boeing way. If it is the BA way to check the generator voltage (say) on the majority of its fleets, it will become the SOP to check it on all for commonality across all fleets Ė presumably to make conversions easier.

Rat5, I have been involved in writing Ops Manuals and I had to submit all amendments to my FOI for his approval before I could issue them to my crews. Therefore they should have proof read them at the very least and also agreed with and approved the changes. I would like to think that was top cover if anything went wrong as a result of a badly written SOP, but I bet it wouldnít be.

Fireflybob, good advice for how to play it as an F/O but I was trying to get to the bottom of what we all think is the correct direction to go in the future.

It seems that many airlines are going off in their own direction as regards SOPís and even checklists to the extent that one airlines way of operating the same aircraft is almost unrecognisable from anotherís. Whilst this may be OK for the majors with all their collective experience, is it safe for a younger airline to be tweaking their brand new Airbus SOPís to fit their existing Boeing fleets (say) or vice versa?

Surely it would be better if we all (globally) operated the same types exactly the same way, then between us all we could find the best way to operate each type from our huge collective experience base.

Tell me guys, if we could do it, would it be a step forwards, backwards or would it not make an ounce of difference?

S & L
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 05:27
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The 10,000 ft altimeter check is a throw back to the days of 3 pointer altimeters which were easy to misread by 10,000 ft
Not quite how I understand it. The calls at 10 & 20k (ie not 30 or 40 (or 50 & 60 in one type)) are an altimeter setting check, to make sure you have set 1013 on them after passing TA. Obviously in europe the 20k check is a bit superflous as Trans alt is always under 10K (I think ) but it is useful in the States where TA can be 18k - and as mentioned elsewhere Big Airways like to have the same SOP's across fleets wherever possible.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 07:15
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But wouldn't you cross check the altimeters after you have set 1013 on climb or QNH on descent?

Why specifically check them at 10 and 20 k?

OK the 10k call is there for other reasons - perhaps pressurisation on the way up and/or MSA going down etc.

I can assure you that the check every 10,000 ft originated because of misreading 3 pointer altimeters and it stuck after the servo altimeter (with digital readout) become commonplace.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 07:36
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I do not have great faith in the theory that the manufacturer knows the best and only way of operating an aircraft. An Airline that has operated a large fleet for many years may well come across items that need to be changed in their/Manufacturers procedures. Unfortunately in these litigious days company lawyers say don't change or we might be sued. I suspect , However, that a more realistic argument might be the opposite "if you knew this why didn't you change it"
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 15:49
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Oh wow, this is a goody!

Some years ago, just after my arrival from darkest Africa, I was sitting in the back of a Company 747 on a positioning flight, just about to start my refresher training with the FO and FE whom had joined with me.

After landing, the active crew had to turn the aircraft around at the end of the runway and backtrack. I noticed that the handling pilot veered from the runway centreline to approximately halfway across the left side of the runway, and then threw a U turn into the handle at the runway end. Where I come from, one simply remains on the centreline, then follows the yellow line into the handle and back out again onto the centreline. (I guess some of you know what I mean?)

I remarked to the other two crew that I thought that this was a bit of an odd way of turning a B747 around and that I'd not seen it done that way before (flying for 20 years). They were bothe quite astounded since (they assured me) that was EXACTLY the way Mr Boeing wanted it done.

Quite embarrassed I left the subject there until sometime later when I got home. I sent a fax off to Boeing requesting clarification with regards to the tirnaround method approved by Mr Boeing. The reply was simple: the method used in Darkest Africa is the original Boeing procedure. The other method used by UK operators, was approved by Boeing at the request of BA, some many years ago.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 16:15
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What a can of worms.

May I start by saying that the people least qualified to write SOPs are the manufacturers. They do not operate a fleet of aircraft in revenue service; they will not gain experience over a period of time of doing so; they are primarily in the 'welding and wiring' business, not in the business of managing an air operation; they have no first-hand knowledge of the nature of the operation or the operators (pilots) involved, and they sell their aircraft to operators of widely varying cultures.

Whilst, for example, US operators insist upon qualifying their First Officers to a lower standard than their commanders, I accept that their SOPs might best reflect this. However, when the manufacturer writes SOPs to provide for an under-competent First Officer, and these are blindly adopted by operators elsewhere who qualify both flight deck crew members to the same standard, then the SOPs are effectively 'dumbing down' the operation.

One other reason why manfuacturers should have their wings clipped... Whilst a major manufacturer is capable of writing SOPs such as the following, they are clearly incompetent to do so... On one aircraft, the manufacturer says that to instruct the PNF to set clean speed, the PF should say 'Bug up'. This occurs at a time when selecting the 'flaps up' will create a Staines-type event. This exact confusion has happened more than a few times, and yet continues.

Another example concerns Start Levers which have two positions, 'Idle' and 'Cutoff'. For those in training converting from piston-engined aircraft, 'Idle cut-off' means 'shut the engine down'. Really, 'Stop' and 'Run', or some other alternative. Dr Simon Bennett's book 'Human Error - by design' is a good primer on the issue.

So, operators should write their SOPs. They may wish to take limited guidance from manufacturers, but until manufacturers start to address some very basic human issues, they should not, and should not be permitted to, dictate how their aircraft are flown.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 16:46
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The 10,20 and 30 K checks are good practice for altimeter accuracy checks for flight into RVSM airspace
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 18:57
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Harry Again. You may have good personal reasons for not trusting manufacturer's SOP's but at least you can be sure that a lot of R&D have gone into the design of their SOP's. The big manufacturer's test pilots are experts in their field and I for one am perfectly happy to accept their recommendations. I know those recommendations are based on handling facts - not some four bar and a star check captains personal hobby horse opinion.

In the airline industry local SOP's change with the wind - or when a new broom is promoted.

Have you ever seen the myriad ways that a simple engine failure/fire after take off in a 737 or 727 for example is presented as an SOP by different operators flying the identical aircraft type?

I have, and it all becomes a grand Shakespearean act of who says what and who pulls which and who confirms what.
 
Old 3rd Feb 2004, 20:03
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Have to agree with Hudson. We have management pilots who seem to justify their existence changing SOPs. I've seen flaps UP, IN, and ZERO for example, all within the last few years. I've seen POWER SET and THRUST SET, SETTING POWER and SET POWER in the same timeframe. All good for zealous linecheckers' debriefs.

I've seen calls for 10k and 5k then 10k again, and the actions and checks at each point changed. I can honestly say I've seen so many SOP changes in one company, that I am surprised the Authority allowed it - it gets so you really DO have to stop and think before actioning anything, though perversely maybe that's not all bad.

On the Authority and the checking of manuals, I have been stunned by the pure illogical layout and contradictory content within just one manual; dificult to believe ANYONE has proof read it. Likewise notices to crews, frequently issued without thought, needing instant revisions, and hence more complications. Still, I suppose it is work creation of a kind.

Give me a good old fashioned pilot's notes as originally written by the production test pilot any day.
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Old 3rd Feb 2004, 21:36
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I agree with Harry - What the manufacturer and what an airline is trying to achieve are worlds apart to some degree. However with my limited jet experience I have seen two sets of SOP's for a regional jet which are also worlds apart. One set was designed by a group of pilots who tried to turn a CRJ operation into an A320 op and currently an operation which is so simplified that it borders on VFR ops. My preference is for the latter since it allows for more situational awareness and brain space. Most management pilots I feel have the best intentions in designing SOP's (they are only trying to protect us as we dont have the same outstanding skill level they obviously have!!) but they forget that if you keep the blue bit at the top and point the nose where you want to go generally things work out OK.
Safe Flying
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Old 5th Feb 2004, 14:29
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Every change from the Manufacturers' SOPs is a result of a stuff up by a Management pilot. Why? Because they are the only ones who can change them.

On a more serious note, the 10000/20000 feet checks may just prove that both pilots have the wrong pressure setting.
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Old 5th Feb 2004, 16:55
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Having flown with manufacturers test teams, I can vouch that they are very good at 'maintenance' test flying, use hardly any SOPs, and certainly don't operate the aircraft in a manner reminiscent of an airline operation.

...and you say they should define the SOPs for us?

Rider, power is electrical; thrust comes from engines.

You're spot on about manuals though. Some companies seem not to have one literate person in the whole flight ops department.
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Old 5th Feb 2004, 17:40
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The 10,20,30 altimeter check is gradually becoming redundant - like many other checks we have to do because they are written as SOPs. On the Airbus, a difference between Capt and F/O altimeter settings for more than a few seconds, or an actual significant difference in altimeter readings between three systems produces a Master Caution Warning.
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