First we need to introduce the concept that, ... despite our training to maintain a high level of Situational Awareness (SA) and Flight Safety at all times, our Multi-Crew SOP-driven Flightdecks have, in a strange way, become a petri-dish for human complacency.
As professional airline pilots we are highly trained to fly exact-replica aircraft and cockpits day after day. Modern state-of-the-art Airbus A320's, ATR72's, Boeing B777's etc... with the exact same switches in the exact same locations from airplane to airplane. Moreover, we are trained to use company and manufacturer mandated wording for almost every eventuality. This wording is to be maintained exactly as directed in the SOP's from pilot to pilot. This high level of detail allows us to fly with new crew members and still maintain a high level of comfort in knowing what our colleague is doing right this second, and what he/she will be doing next.
However there is a somewhat hidden problem and it is based around human nature and complacency in combination with the quality of the airplanes we fly. When the majority of us head to work, 99% or more believe no technical issue will affect their operation on their upcoming duty. Nothing noteworthy has occured the last 100 sectors, so why would something occur today? With this level of technical reliability, flight after flight, it is easy and common for pilots to become unknowingly complacent - even if just a little; simply making the SOP calls at the required times based on the aircraft cues presented - start up, taxi, before take off etc. Often not 100 percent up to speed with the aircraft and ongoing system changes.
An example of Pilot Complacency outside of the reliability issue is Approach Briefings and Go Arounds.
From Piper Seneca pilots flying bank data bags, to King Air pilots flying Priority 1 Medevacs, to Ryanair pilots flying the Brits to the beaches in Spain - all crews / professional pilots are succeptible. Here is how one form of complacency can enter into our cockpits:
Every approach flown by a Multi-Crew Pilot is briefed ahead of time between the pilots; together, as a crew and as a team. The pilot flying the approach/landing normally provides the Approach, Landing, and Possible Go Around Briefing. Current weather conditions, current runway in use, rapid exits, and auto-brake settings are all discussed and open to input. From there the topic switches to the Go Around Procedure listed on the chart. At this point the Pilot Flying discusses the routing involved with the Go Around and possibly the configuration that will be used at various points. However, often the configuration changes are left out of the briefing - simply because they are simple steps and readily known as SOP by all parties.
Similar to technical issues on reliable airplanes, Go Arounds almost never occur. Most pilots fly an accurate approach to a landing and make their targetted exit. Mission accomplished. Five out of Five - nice job! Sometimes these successful approaches and landings happen multiple times during the same shift. Still, despite the Go Around briefings discussed, no go around is actually flown. The configuration changes are rarely practiced in real time. This can go on for months and months. Possibly over a year between actual Go Arounds. This is a great thing as it often means the pilots are flying accurate, stable, safe approaches and Air Traffic Control is doing their part in the safety chain.
WARNING - this is where Complacency can rear its ugly head. Pilots like you and I, without suspecting, can become complacent about Go Arounds, specifically the Go Around Maneuver and Configuration Changes and Steps. We discuss the routing but never truly believe it will occur. We rarely walk through the actions (some critical) that need to be completed if a short-notice Go Around is called for. Our brains are usually focused on our target - which is to do a nice landing at B. The flight is from A to B, and because pilots are task oriented, we become somewhat fixated on landing at B.
Don't get me wrong - we all realize that an unstabilized approach is unsafe and we will, no questions asked, Go Around when the situation calls for it.
However, talking to Airline Examiners and Safety Department Heads, we have learned that 'easy' All-Engines-Running Go Arounds are at the top of the list of maneuvers incorrectly performed by pilots. Yes they make the correct decision to Go Around, but often the actual Go Around procedure is not accomplished to the Manufacturers Instructions / order. Depending upon which action you complete too early or too late, you may sound a number of loud configuration alarm bells in the cockpit. Not a good feeling for any pilot.
I personally have messed up a Go Around, flying a mile or so with the Gear Down. 'Why is it so loud in here? - ahhh the GEAR is still down!' My colleague missed the 'Positive Climb' call and I missed the cross-check of the configuration as we climbed away. One thing few pilots mention is that when you make the decision to Go Around, it suddenly will get really loud in the cockpit. The thrust comes way up, the gear is still down (initially) and the flap levers and selectors are manipulated while numerous ATC calls are made. The cockpit suddenly becomes a blur of activity. Loud noises can confuse the best of us. Even if only a little for a short period. We are only human. That is merely one example.
So our recommendation to all active pilots is to discuss Go Around Complacency as a threat to safety on each approach. Just a quick one minute chat. Why? Because you likely haven't done a real Go Around in many months and the goal here is to eliminate complacency and to be truly ready. During the Approach Briefing - discuss the Go Around Routing and then discuss the Configuration, Power/Thrust, and Pitch Changes that need to occur and in what order. Discuss the use of the Auto Pilot and Auto Thrust as applicable. And then talk to your colleagues about common Go Around mistakes made by pilots the world over. This level of awareness will have ALL crew members aware and ready for any short-notice Go Around; whether from an unstabilized approach or perhaps a late Air Traffic Control Instruction for separation.
Aviation is amazing - you can learn something new every day. After 20 years of flying and 16 years of flying across the oceans.... and Instructor gave me a new angle on Go Around Procedures the other day. His points were as follows - and incredibly insightful - and can be used on Piper Senecas to Airbus A380 Super Wide-bodies... I hope you agree:
'Most All-Engine-Operating Go Arounds, if not all of them, are not emergency situations at all. The airplane is fully functional as are the pilots. Unfortunately something has occured at the airport or in the vicinity of the airport (often aircraft separation issues) or something has gone amiss on the approach leaving the pilots/aircraft 'unstable' below 1000 feet AGL. In both cases a Go Around is warranted and often mandatory. BUT here is the important bit... you are NOT in an emergency situation. Everything is still in control. Therefore.....
WHATS THE HURRY? RELAX, TAKE YOUR TIME AND BE METHODICAL. STAY AHEAD OF THE AIRCRAFT. AND ....PLAN THE GO AROUND:
Provided you are not below 500 feet or so, have a quick conversation with your colleague to say 'Ok... they called for a Go Around and we are going to do a Go Around in the next 5 to 10 seconds. Are you ready for it? Happy with the maneuver coming up? Back me up...ok here we go ...GO AROUND FLAP 20....' And off you go.
WHY? Many Go Arounds between 500 and 2000 feet are completed with unnecessary urgency. Pilots believe everything needs to be actioned right now with immediate effect. Unfortunately the haste often leads to mistakes, omissions, and pilots falling 'behind the airplane' and 'behind the procedure'. So next time you have to do a Go Around - take the extra few seconds, even after acknowledging the Go Around with ATC, to get ready and prepared for the SOP Go Around Configuration Changes. The same configuration changes we discussed above - yes ...correct ... the ones you rarely get practice in real time.
I learned this from a great pilot and communicator. Despite 16,000 flight hours in my log book, I learned something so simple and yet so new to me. Excellent.