CRJ200 Airline Pilot

The personal experiences, thoughts of an CRJ captain


Which Way Did He Go, George?

Posted by Jeffrey on September 5, 2008

Bad Situational Awareness

Bad Situational Awareness

Something that is getting a lot attention in the aviation circles is runway incursions and surface movement safety. Check out this interactive website, Runway Safety,¬†hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Aircraft Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) Safety Foundation to refresh yourself on surface movements.

As a professional pilot, I get the opportunity to fly into Chicago O’Hare (ORD) often. It is second busiest airport in the United States and for the uninitiated, one of the most complicated. Most the rules go out the door once you land or pull out of the gate, so be ready. Notably, there have been occasions when I haven’t talked to a ground controller once I landed and taxied to the gate unchallenged. That has happened twice. Other times, when pulling out of the ramp, we were just told to follow the airplane in front of us to the runway. Still other times, the taxi instruction was so complicated we didn’t know which way to go. Finally, if you are stopped on a taxiway, you better have a good reason to be stopped because you are going to be yelled at. It seems that in ORD, the WRONG thing to do is stop. It seems that the ground controllers would rather you keep moving and call them when you can. Stopping! Big No-no!

Anyway, even in ORD, where things can get crazy, as a captain, you still need to control your airplane and crew.  Here are a few pointers to keep things under control:

Plan Your Route

When I fly into or out of ORD, I ALWAYS discuss with my first officer the possible routes and possible runways we might be assigned. I’m familiar enough with ORD that I know which possible directions we could go to get to any of the runways. If your first officer is new, he may be overwhelmed, so discuss the plan and when it comes to implementation, take your time.


This goes hand-in-hand with planning your route. Communicate with your first officer and control the tempo. If he knows and you know absolutely what the ground controller want you to do then do it…but…if you don’t, yeah, you may get yelled at and it may be a little embarrassing, but ask the controller for clarification. If you are EVER in any doubt, ASK! You will be glad you did, and I guarantee that you will forget about the jab you just received within a day.

Furthermore, always be polite and use proper etiquette and phraseology. You may want to justify what you did or take a verbal jab back at the controller, but resist! You are professional and that means that you ALWAYS speak and act respectable, even on the radio. And don’t forget, other airline pilots are listening!


As the captain, you are the leader and the best way to be a leader is to lead by example. This means that you have your airport diagram out, you maintain sterile cockpit, and maintain situational awareness of your airplane and those around you. If you do something wrong, admit it and move on. Nobody, not even captains, are perfect. Accept it!

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Compliance

Company procedures and FAA procedures are there for your safety. They are tried and true procedures that have been developed over many years by many experienced pilots and sometimes developed through tragic accidents. Remember, you are not there to re-write these procedures. Basically, the company you fly for pays you and expects you to follow these procedures. If you don’t like them you have two options: 1) quit or 2) work towards getting them changed through proper channels. It is not your perogative to change them as you see fit. Personally, I consider it a safety hazard if you don’t follow SOP. Companies train so that no matter who you fly with, everyone does the same thing. Once you deviate from the norm, you increase the risk, so follow the procedures. Everyone will be better off!

So keep your head moving and look out for the other guy.

Till next time…


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