Fly as a crew


Prevent A Crash By Learning To Fly As A Crew

Have you ever flown in someone else’s airplane? Have you had another pilot fly in your airplane? The answer to both of those questions is probably yes.

In crewed aircraft, over 70% of accidents are due to human error and group performance problems. Even if you’re not an airline pilot with crew resource management training, there are some simple and critically important steps you should take before turning on the engine and rolling down the runway. Using the following tips will ensure you’re ready to fly with another pilot onboard, no matter who has more experience.


Crew resource management isn’t limited to communicating effectively, it’s more importantly about using all of your resources to achieve safe and efficient flight operations. This means you must know how to work with the people around you. Trust me, that’s easier said than done.

Most of you are probably just like me. We’ve flown with other pilots and noticed problems that cause concern. You might’ve been flying up front, or maybe you were riding in the back seat. In more than a few cases, I should’ve spoken up and said something but didn’t, and here’s why…

In general aviation, outside of the professional flying world, we’re taught very little about how to work with other pilots collaboratively in the cockpit. To form a cohesive group with strangers, become a team by integrating skill sets, and respond to demanding conditions in a coordinated way is VERY challenging, even for the most experienced pilots. That’s why airlines place such a high priority on training their pilots to work excellently in a crew environment.

Bringing up a concern to another pilot when they’re the PIC can feel like an awkward situation. If you’re young, less experienced, or simply unfamiliar with the airplane, bringing up a concern is even harder. We’ve all been there.


More than a few accidents have occurred from confusion, intimidation, and overall lack of coordination between pilots or crew members.

Korean Air Flight 801 is an infamous example of poor crew communication. Despite protests from the flight engineer that a detected signal was not the correct glideslope, the captain continued to fly the Boeing 747’s night time approach into Guam’s International Airport. The crew members continually reported that the airport was not in sight. The captain continued to fly lower and lower on the approach, until the aircraft flew into Nimitz Hill, about 3 nautical miles short of the runway, at an altitude of 660 feet. Of the 254 people on board, 228 died as a result of the crash.


If you’re flying with another pilot, it’s incredibly important to run through expectations and shared flight responsibilities, all before you even turn on the engine. Each person should know the role they play, both for normal and emergency situations. Delegation is all about giving someone else the authority to complete a task, while you retain responsibility for the outcome. Having another pilot onboard is a great way to increase situational awareness, but it only works if each person knows what they’re expected to do and that their input matters.

If it’s your airplane or you are the pilot flying, it’s important to first remove any apprehension the other pilot might have. Try saying something like, “If you ever have questions or notice something that concerns you, please bring it up right away. We’re both pilots here, so we’ll work together.” Don’t just say it, really mean it. The best resource you have is each other, so make that very clear that you’re flying as equals, no matter the difference in age or experience.

If it’s someone else’s airplane and they haven’t pre-briefed the flight, ask them how they’d like to split up flight tasks. Offer to help out in any way that you can! Breaking down communication barriers is critical so you can both work together efficiently.


One major airline in the United States preaches that the key to crew coordination is, “Saying the right thing, to the right person, at the right time, in the right way.” This couldn’t be more true… But what exactly does this mean?

  • Say the right thing: The other person should fully understand what you mean, so there’s no question in their mind what you’re thinking… Don’t be vague.
  • To the right person: Speak to the person that can make a difference with your concern. Talking to the wrong person doesn’t help.
  • At the right time: If it’s something that needs to be said now, say it now! “Hey we’re too low” doesn’t help if you can’t recover before impact.
  • In the right way: Be respectful so everyone can continue to work together for the rest of the flight.

Good communication is key if you’re flying with someone else. When communication stops, all other situation awareness stops. This is especially important if you’re with a pilot that you’ve never flown with. Laying out good communication right away ensures that everyone’s input matters.


Something just isn’t going well. Maybe the approach is being flown way too fast or the airplane is about to fly into questionable weather. Remember, your input does matter, so it’s now time to be assertive with the person you’re flying with. If there’s a regulations violation and you’re the most highly rated pilot, the CAA could come after you, even if you weren’t the pilot flying. Follow these steps to be assertive without being disrespectful… This is how the airlines teach it:

  • Get the listeners attention: Use a name to address them, or quickly tap them on the arm.
  • Take responsibility for the communication by expressing some kind of emotion: You need to emphasize that this isn’t typical communication. Try beginning with, “I am concerned that ____.”
  • State the problem clearly: Don’t be vague about what’s causing your concern.
  • Propose an action or solution: Don’t leave the proposed solution open for lengthy debate. If you’re being assertive, it’s probably because something needs to happen now.
  • Insist on feedback: You’re not the only person who has an input, ask what the other pilot thinks.

Example: “Hey Sean, I’m concerned that we’re about to fly into some pretty bad icing conditions. Let’s climb above the clouds. What do you think?”

Example: “Captain, I’m concerned because we are flying 30 knots top fast on this approach. We should go around and try again. Don’t you agree?”

Try making an assertive statement yourself: The PIC is about to take you dangerously close to an area of repeated lighting strikes.

It may sound cheesy, but this is the tried and true method for addressing immediate concerns while flying in a crew environment. It’s the single best way to get someone’s attention and promote a needed change. It’s all summed up by the words: Attention, Concern, Problem, Solution, Feedback.

If you’re caught in a situation where you need to be assertive, always be clear, direct and respectful. When you use this, it’s probably because you believe an immediate change is needed about the way a flight is going, so don’t beat around the bush.


If you’re flying together again, have a quick talk about how you worked together. Practically, this shouldn’t be anything formal. As you’re shutting the plane down, run through what you think went well, or what could be done differently. Even if it’s just a friend you flew with, briefing post-flight is a great way to constantly improve how you work with other pilots. If you ask for honest feedback, you’ll probably get some good suggestions!

Easy enough, right? If you want to work well with other pilots in the airplane, you need to have clear communication and expectations from the very beginning. Once communication is lost, or you don’t speak up, you’re losing the ability to use each other for situational awareness. That’s not good for anyone. Next time you go flying, try dividing up tasks in the cockpit and practice working together.