By Justin Winters
According to the FAA, Situational Awareness is defined as : “The accurate perception and understanding of all the factors and conditions within the four fundamental risk elements (pilot, aircraft, environment, and type of operation) that affect safety before, during, and after the flight.” (FAA-H8083-2). Put simply, it means having a mental picture of all the factors that could affect the safety of the flight.
Most people think situational awareness applies to in-flight only. But it’s actually required in all phases and aspects of flight - in the air and on the ground. In fact, situational awareness starts before entering the briefing room and doesn’t end until long after.
Maintaining good situational awareness requires a pilot to be attentive, mindful and perceptive. Loss of it can negatively affect both students and instructors. Several factors can contribute to lost situational awareness, including distractions, task saturation, overreliance on automation (or gadgets), lack of experience/training, and expectation bias.
But there are ways you can increase, or at least mitigate loss of, situational awareness, including:
Thorough pre-flight briefs, including weather, NOTAMS, SUA, etc, that could affect the flight
Departure and approach briefs as well as required use of taxiway diagrams
After obtaining ATIS at towered airports, monitor ground frequency and include expected ground traffic in the taxi considerations section of the briefing
In the run-up area, regularly look outside the cockpit to monitor where traffic is on the ground, and in the pattern. Before leaving the run-up area give a short traffic briefing
When approaching an airport, brief on traffic and how it could affect the flight
Approaching non-towered airports, remember TIS may be unavailable, and there could be traffic that isn’t making radio calls
DO NOT use phrases such as “Any Traffic in the area, please advise” or “Request traffic advisories”. Traffic may not be communicating and lead to expectation bias that no one is there
Monitor the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) on the ground at non-towered airports, and give a briefing about where traffic is before taxiing to the run-up area, and before taking the runway
Pilots need to be alert so that the flight can be performed safely. That starts with knowing what’s going on with the aircraft and around you. Situational awareness can be difficult to maintain at all times. So be sure to practice often and fly aware.
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