Today is the 50th anniversary of the Flight 401 disaster. I’ve previously cited how the crew of the ill-fated Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-1011 got so single-mindedly preoccupied with tackling a nose landing gear indicator light malfunction that they didn’t pay attention to the fact that their airliner was descending gradually into the Florida Everglades.
In summary, the pilots were simply too distracted to fly the aircraft. Human factors, specifically cognitive impairments, can precipitate distractions away from vital tasks.
The incident led to a breakthrough called Crew Resource Management (CRM.) This “human nature innovation” actively orients pilots to prioritize tasks in order of operational safety. The adage “Aviate, Navigate, and Communicate (A-N-C)” reinforces the ‘fly the aircraft first’ behaviors until they’re internalized and become routine.
The top priority—always—is to aviate. That means fly the airplane by using the flight controls and flight instruments to direct the airplane’s attitude, airspeed, and altitude. Rounding out those top priorities are figuring out where you are and where you’re going (Navigate,) and, as appropriate, talking to ATC or someone outside the airplane (Communicate.) However, it doesn’t matter if we’re navigating and communicating perfectly if we lose control of the aircraft and crash. A-N-C seems simple to follow, but it’s easy to forget when you get busy or distracted in the cockpit.
Idea for Impact: “Fly the aircraft first.” Know when to set aside the seemingly important things to accomplish the more vital ones.