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CA wants to go below minimums-Part I

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Wing, Nosewheel, Whatever
Dec 19, 2001
I stopped by and noticed that the action had picked up a bit. I thought I'd join in.

For those of you who don't know me "TIS" stands for The Interview Specialist. What can I say? I needed a handle. This one stuck. I'm not really new to this board though it's been a long while since I've actively posted here. My job has gotten A LOT busier and I have a lot less time on my hands.

At any rate, some of you will remember that I advocate a particular way of looking at scenario-based interview questions. The question that got my attention this morning is the old standard, "What would you do if the Captain attempted to go below minimums during an approach with nothing in sight?"

Before we get into the nitty gritty, be aware that ulitmately, you will need to take the aircraft and miss the approach. My bet however, would be that it never gets that far in the interview because they’ll want to see how you’ll deal with the rogue Captain after you land. It’s all part of what they want to know about you.

Now here's the approach I advocate taking when asked a, "What would you do... ," question. The MOST important thing to understand about situational questions is that they are never what they seem to be. The question as posed rarely contains enough information in its form to arm you appropriately for decision making. One of the things you should ALWAYS do when you are given a scenario of any kind to contend with is figure out what is missing that you would like to know more about before you make a decision as a Captain. A little time spent thinking things over before you open your mouth will offer your interviewer a clear view of how you will think as a Captain. That is one of the things that scenario-based questions are meant to uncover.

So what’s missing here? Here are a few things you don’t know.

1. Is the aircraft stable? If it is that buys you some time to assess what to do next. When you ask, the aircraft will be stable.

2. Is the approach being flown accurately? If it is, this too buys you some assessment time. The Captain will be NAILING the approach so far, when you ask in the interview.

3. What is your fuel state? Do you have enough gas to go around? No one ever thinks of this one but it’s a critical bit of information that they conveniently leave out.

4. Does the aircraft have an autopilot and if so is being used to fly the approach? If it does and it’s being used it buys you time because you can be reasonably certain that the airplane is going to stay on the localizer and the glideslope. The autopilot being on has a downside though. If it’s on it means you’ll need to disconnect it for the missed approach. This will sound a disconnect alarm which may serve to create a great deal of confusion especially if verbal communication becomes involved.

5. How is the arrival at minimums announced? The use of standard calls is essential in this type of operation because a lack of response to them can reveal trouble when you least expect it. In addition the use of a callout like, "Minimums, no runway, missed approach," leaves very little room for interpretation. A lack of response most likely means something is wrong.

6. Is the arrival at minimums challenged more than once? Generally the limit is two challenges before the other pilot is to ASSUME that the flying pilot is incapacitated to some degree. If you haven’t called it twice, taking the controls is going to seem very premature.

7. Is the aircraft in icing conditions? A sudden pitch up could lead to a stall. Your technique may have to be adjusted for the conditions.

While I don’t advocate asking a hundred questions before rendering you opinion to a scenario like this you should ask a few questions to show that you are thinking. This question has MANY other unknowns incorporated within it relating to crew/aircraft qualifications, weather and oscurations to vision, etc. If you think about it for awhile you'll come up with soem other "missing" parts.

Moving along, however, one thing that you need to have in the back of your mind is how far you’re prepared to let a situation like this go before you take the controls away and risk getting in a fight over what had been a perfectly stable airplane. The establishment of a bottom line is a critical part of your analysis and a critical part of your performance in the interview with regard to this question.

To put this in perspective and so you can see how long you’ve got to make your decision, take a look at what the FAA will let you do at DA with just the approach lights in sight. With only the lights in sight you are permitted to continue to 100’ above TDZE. How do you do this? By following the glideslope, of course! It can’t be done visually – yet – that’s why you continue the approach.

In this scenario you’re at DA, perfectly stable, and on localizer and GS, the only missing ingredient is the lights themselves. You have everything you need to continue except the visual reference.

How long will it take you to get to 100’ ATDZE? At 700’/min, it’ll take about 8.6 seconds. Assuming you decide to place your hard floor at 100 ATDZE, that’s how long you have to make your second minimums call and take over control of the aircraft for the go-around (assuming stability and course guidance are not compromised in that time). That is an eternity! You’ll have it done in less time than that but my point is that you have time to make some reasonable judgements based on some sound facts about what the FAA permits by continuing with only the approach lights in sight.

Am I advocating that you permit Captains to transgress the minimums for an approach routinely on the basis of this reasoning? Absolutely NOT! I offer this as a structure within which you can think in terms of time so that you can assess several levels of urgency. For example, If the approach starts to go bad before you can finish making the second call, that is a more urgent situation than if everything remains within ATP standards.

In most interviews however, what will happen is you will say that you would make the minimums call a second time. They will say that before any response occurs and before you can do anything yourself the Captain will get something in sight and land. The question will then be put to you, "What do you do now?"

See Part II for that discussion!

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