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How do you brief?

The thread on taxi instructions got me thinking about briefings and preparation, especially for unfamiliar airports. When I was doing my IR, this was one of the many areas that wasn’t covered well, as we always flew the same sorts of approaches in the general area, and I had spent hours just in my room staring at the approach plates. We also only landed at our base airport.

Like most, when going to a new place I have a good look at the plates the night before. In flight, single pilot or at work, I brief the same way. Many companies have a structured standard brief that they prefer to use, so one’s colleague knows what’s coming and when. As nobody taught me any of this on the initial IR, I thought I’d share my method with you all. I apologise if this sounds patronising as it is not intended to be!

The acronym I use is WANT DALTA

- What does the ATIS and TAF say?
- Which runway is in use?
- Will the runway be wet?
- Does it suggest a runway swap or conditions for a potential visual?

- Any snags on the aircraft that will affect your performance on the approach?

- Approach types, unserviceable navaids, taxiway closures are popular ones to catch

This isn’t the place to go into Threat and Error Management, but broadly, what is unusual about this approach? What are the big gotchas?

- Correct arrival and approach selected in the GPS. Tracks/distances and altitude restrictions noted. Also a good time to have a look at the terrain on your arrival path if significant

- Course and navaid setup
- tracks in the GPS, especially if flying a procedural approach or overly
- Minima and approach lighting
- Missed approach (including how you’d do it)
- Fuel and holding time available
- How you’d do a visual, if appropriate

- Runway length/width and any slope
- Wet/Dry
- Flap configuration to use and where to vacate

Taxi and Apron:
- Where are you going? What’s the most likely route?

The whole lot will take around 10 minutes depending on your familiarity and the rate you wish to work at. For somewhere you’re familiar with it might be a bit overkill, but if you follow it all through you won’t miss anything.

London area

The whole lot will take around 10 minutes …

What you are doing sounds a lot like NetJets . However, I have one problem with it: The word briefing contains “brief” which to me means “short”. My understanding is that everything that is briefed needs to be stored in short term memory. My memory is not bad (yet) but cant hold the information contained in a ten-minute-briefing. One minute at most, maybe less…

So I do everything as you describe, but omit all the stuff that does not apply to the approach in question as well as anything that is more or less standard. Like nav aid setting and GPS/FMS (overlay) setup. We know how to do that, no need for an extra briefing. When switching from FMS/ILS to ILS during the approach there is a “green needle check” anyway where the setup will be verified.

For nomal operation (= instrument approch above minimum to uncontaminated runway) to the home base or other frequent destinations I abbreviate my briefing to the absolute minimum: MSA, Final approach fix, final course, one check altitude, minimum, first minute of the missed approach. Takes 30 seconds.

Last Edited by what_next at 07 May 10:04
EDDS - Stuttgart

For nomal operation (= instrument approch above minimum to uncontaminated runway) to the home base or other frequent destinations I abbreviate my briefing to the absolute minimum: MSA, Final approach fix, final course, one check altitude, minimum, first minute of the missed approach. Takes 30 seconds.

I do that, plus I add the frequencies for the nav aids if appropriate, and I check them as I say them. My colleague in the other seat will also cross check his side is set up the same.

Darley Moor, Gamston (UK)

I actually agree entirely. The reason I posted was because I see that some people have never really been taught how to brief for somewhere new, or what to think about.

Of course, once you’re comfortable you know what you can omit on a nice day, but knowing you need to think about it and dismissing it as not relevant for that approach is entirely different to not knowing it needs thinking about at all.

I can recite my home base brief in about 45 seconds depending on how fast I’m talking ;)

London area

I make a difference between preparation, and briefing.

For preparation, I mentally go through the flight & weather, file the flight plan, and THEN look at the NOTAMS that are relevant for the FP. The level depends simply on the size of the challenge. Biggin – Maastricht? Been there, done that, just looking at the charts and NOTAMs to see if anything has changed since I was last there.

Going into Brussels first time? Half an hour with the taxi chart, a couple of minutes on STARs and approach (no surprises here, but 160kt on the appoach to 3D will be fun…) and a quick call to the GAT to figure out what REALLY to expect.

I don’t feel the need for a Mnemonic because is is an end-to-end flow going through the flight, at speed if easy and more thoroughly if any complications are expected. Quite similar to flow-based cockpit management.

For briefing, it is again about anticipation, but in this case the next 10-15 minutes of flight (or longer for the approach briefing), which includes setting up the radios for the anticipated frequencies. The Jeppesen “briefing strip” at the top is very helpful for the approach briefing, as its flow is reasonable and if you just go through it you will cover what is required, while on AIP charts you need to hunt around for the bits and might lose the “flow”…

I WAS taught this approach – and the instructor, knowing that I was not destined for a SOP-bound airline world, and having flown single pilot IFR for real, just emphasized in a very practical fashion to be ahead of the aircraft 10-15 minutes at all times, and say it out loud to myself even when alone.

Biggin Hill

“brief” which to me means “short”

If this weren’t a forum of the highest level, I would post some illustrations of the difference between shorts and briefs.

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

MSA 3500
IAF is xyz VOR
out of xyz on r-133
descend 4000
DME 10 xyz right turn
intercept FC250
start descent at glide slope
OM check altitude xy ft
Missed approach
runway heading to 2.5 miles
right turn track 010, intercept radial xy xyz VOR
climb 4000

…. or similar, that’s how i do it most times

…. or similar, that’s how i do it most times

This is exactly how I was taught and teach myself: Follow the sequence of events, from the highest altitude (MSA) down to minimum and then up again through the missed approach procedure. The “briefing strip” on the Jeppesen charts has a completely different sequence which I find more confusing than helpful. Plus the unusual stuff like contaminated runway, high terrain/obstacles, non-standard aircraft configuration, NOTAMed items that affect approach and landing and similar items.
When weather and ATC permit, I always request a visual approach (because this really is why I fly, not to watch the autopilot follow some invisible rails in the sky). If that is granted, I don’t brief the instrument procedure at all. I will brief my colleague: “Visual approach runway 08, in case of missed approach (due to unstable aircraft or blocked runway) we will fly a visual pattern to the left at 1500ft AGL”. Not one more word

EDDS - Stuttgart

Here in the US, I use the briefing strip. We don’t have an operational MSA on the approach chart and may only use it in an emergency. For most GA pilots, we operate single pilot and don’t have a second pilot to handle other chores. We operate mostly into airports that don’t have a tower. Runways may not be aligned with the final approach course and there may be a turn at the FAF. Many runways do not have approach lights and the lighting system is often pilot controlled. Obstacles may prevent a continuous descent from the FAF to the threshold. Most of our IFR aircraft are equipped with both ILS and GPS. About 15% of all GA aircraft have WAAS with LPV capability, but the percent that flies regular IFR is much higher. LPV is much easier to fly than an ILS and requires less briefing. I use Morse, Source, Course as a flow on approaches.

Morse requires that the approach be identified. For an ILS, it means that one needs to have tuned the correct frequency for the localizer, made it the active navigation frequency and identified the Morse code. For an LPV, the name of the procedure on the primary navigation page along with the correct annunciation LPV when the FAF becomes the active fix, indicates the system is properly identified and selected.

Source means that the correct navigation system has been selected, either GPS or VLOC.

Course, means that the final approach course or intermediate to FAF course has been twisted on the HSI/CDI/PFD.

I am able in my Bonanza to simply lower the gear to follow the glidepath or initiate the descent. Gear down to go down is my mantra. If there are pilot activated approach lights, I key the mike five times at the FAF and again at the half way point. Nothing is worse than to complete an approach at night to a non towered field, only to find out the runway lights or approach lights are off.

When evaluating the descent to the runway, at briefing time. I check to see if the symbol indicating that the visual segment is clear on a 34 to 1 is present. That is good. If not, I look for tell tale indications of obstructions or other issues, in particular if the visibility requirement is 1 SM or greater, if a VDP is charted (needs 20 to 1 obstacle clearance), there are no notes such as “NA at night” or “Descent Angle NA” or “NA at night without VGSI”. If I am unfamiliar with the airport, I keep it high and make a steep descent to the runway.

KUZA, United States

I must come across as a real amateur… I don’t use any mnemonics and could never remember a single one anyway.

I start about 100nm out, with sorting out the approach plates. STAR, then IAP, then airport chart. The likely STAR comes from the last waypoint of the route, and there will be two options (or more) according to which runway is used. I might call ATC to get the current runway (yes, it can change). Then read the IAP, and the missed approach. Set up all possible frequencies. Change to HDG mode as soon as the “vectoring or standard” situation is firming up, and then using a short checklist I set up the GPS in OBS mode to display an overlay of the ILS (helps SA). 20 miles out, brakes off, fuel pump on, fuel on and sufficient, harnesses and doors. By 10-20 miles out, I have nothing else to do other than press APR when approaching the LOC (IF cleared for the ILS) then gear down and flap 1 on the GS intercept.

I find that visual approaches aren’t offered or suggested except when one is close in already. They probably don’t want you doing a DIY bit of nav for 20 miles.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
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