One of the most amazing inventions of modern technology, flying allows people and goods to move over great distances swiftly and effectively.
Although aviation has made many advances, flying is still a dangerous activity, and the well-being of passengers and personnel should always come first.
In aviation, there are particular periods of flight where the risks significantly increase, necessitating additional care and planning in order to ensure a safe and successful flight. These are the critical phases of flight, which include takeoff, climb, cruise, descent, and landing.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at each of these phases and explore why they require extra attention to ensure a safe and successful flight.
What are the critical phases of flight?
The critical phases of flight refer to specific periods during a flight where the aircraft is at a higher risk of accidents or incidents. These phases include takeoff, climb, cruise, descent, and landing.
For the military, critical phases also include events such as low levels, formation, and aerial refueling.
This is the phase when the aircraft accelerates on the runway and lifts off the ground. Takeoff is considered a critical phase of flight because any issues during this phase could lead to a crash or other safety incidents.
This is the phase when the aircraft ascends from takeoff altitude to its cruising altitude. During this phase, the aircraft is vulnerable to obstacles, such as buildings or mountains.
Cruise (Specifically under 10,000 feet)
This is the phase when the aircraft is flying at its cruising altitude and speed. While this phase is generally considered safe, unexpected turbulence or other weather-related incidents could pose a threat to safety.
This is the phase when the aircraft descends from cruising altitude to landing altitude. During this phase, the aircraft is vulnerable to obstacles and must be guided safely to the runway.
This is the phase when the aircraft approaches the runway and lands. Landing is considered a critical phase of flight because any issues during this phase could result in a crash or other safety incidents.
Why should I know the critical phases of flight?
Pilots are responsible for the safety of their passengers and crew during every flight, and knowing the critical phases of flight is essential to ensuring a safe and successful flight. Here are some reasons why pilots should be familiar with the critical phases of flight:
Risk Management: Knowing the critical phases of flight helps pilots manage risks by preparing for potential hazards and taking appropriate action to mitigate them.
Communication: Understanding the critical phases of flight enables pilots to communicate effectively with air traffic control, ground crew, and other relevant parties during each phase, ensuring smooth and safe operations.
Compliance: Compliance with regulations and standards is critical in aviation, and pilots must adhere to specific procedures during each critical phase of flight to ensure regulatory compliance.
Emergencies: In the event of an emergency during any of the critical phases of flight, pilots need to be prepared to respond quickly and effectively, potentially saving lives.
Confidence: Knowledge of the critical phases of flight instills confidence in pilots, allowing them to focus on flying safely and efficiently, knowing that they are prepared for any situation that may arise.
Overall, pilots who are familiar with the critical phases of flight are better equipped to manage risks, communicate effectively, comply with regulations, respond to emergencies, and operate with confidence, leading to safer and more successful flights.
There has been a multitude of accidents that have stemmed from distractions in the cockpit during the critical phases of flight. This led to the FAA introducing a rule requiring airline crewmembers to refrain from nonessential activities during the crucial portions of each flight that were mentioned previously.
What does "Sterile Cockpit" mean?
The FAA implemented the sterile flight deck rule to reduce distractions and increase the focus on safety during critical phases of flight. The rule prohibits non-essential activities and conversations in the cockpit during takeoff, climb, descent, and landing, and requires crew members to focus solely on their duties and responsibilities during these phases.
Before the implementation of the sterile flight deck rule, cockpit conversations and activities were not regulated, and pilots and crew members could engage in non-essential activities during critical phases of flight. However, research and investigations into aviation accidents and incidents revealed that distractions and non-essential activities in the cockpit were a contributing factor in many of these incidents.
The rule was first implemented in the United States in 1981 and has since been adopted by many aviation regulatory bodies around the world. The sterile flight deck rule helps to create a more focused and controlled environment in the cockpit during critical phases of flight, reducing the risk of accidents and incidents caused by distractions and non-essential activities.
In addition to reducing distractions and increasing focus, the sterile flight deck rule also improves communication and collaboration among the crew members. With the elimination of non-essential conversations and activities, the crew can focus solely on their tasks, ensuring efficient and effective communication and collaboration.
Overall, the implementation of the sterile flight deck rule has improved safety in aviation by reducing distractions, increasing focus, improving communication, and ensuring that crew members can perform their duties effectively during critical phases of flight.
Regardless of a pilot’s or a crew’s skill level, distractions can lead to mistakes, which can inadvertently lead to mishaps. Knowing the critical phases of flight and having the discipline to maintain a sterile cockpit will not only keep you safer, but those around you as well.