Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Why They’re Important

SOPsDavid Santo: So many flight schools are focused on the next step in the ladder, right.

So there it’s challenging enough just to try to get somebody to solo. And then it’s challenging to get them to go and successfully pass their private pilot license and then to get their instrument. So the focus is on the next step. It takes a little bit extra effort, but the end result is much better.

If we look at the end goal and design the curriculum’s, and the procedures, and the policies for training pilots based on, what are we trying to produce at the end of the pipeline? If we are trying to produce multi-crew pilots, and it doesn’t matter if they’re airline pilots, or corporate aviation pilots, if they’re going to fly together in on advanced multi-crew aircraft, then there are some key ingredients that we need to bake into the cake as we’re developing the student.

And some of these should be done really, really early on. Every flight instructor learns the different laws of learning and one of the things is the law or primacy, which says that what you learn first is what you’re going to best remember. So, it behooves us as an industry, and Paula, I was a flight instructor.

I was a flight instructor at Southern Illinois University where I work as an adjunct flight instructor. I was a glider instructor before that. So having filled that role as a 141 flight instructor, I wish I would have been more knowledgeable at that time and equipped with a little bit more tools, or better tools, for producing the end product.

Which is somebody that’s going to go fly a multi-crew, soft-wing high performance jet. And SOPS is a huge part of that. You’ve heard me talk about the four Ps.

Paula Williams:   Correct.

David Santo: Philosophy, policy, procedure, and practice. By the way, I didn’t come up with that. I was taught the four Ps at a seminar where we were looking at standard operating procedures for the airline that I fly for.

But when you look at the philosophy and you say, we as flight instructors have to have enough knowledge of understanding why we’re teaching something that we don’t ever say do it because I said so.

Paula Williams:   Exactly.

David Santo: That hasn’t worked since we were ten years old, right? Somewhere about there our parents said because I told you so, and we probably rebelled.

Well that’s what students are doing. So you need to give enough philosophy so that there’s buy in, right? So that the student understands the importance of complying with this practice, this procedure, all of the time.

Paula Williams:   Right.

David Santo: And SOPS, the philosophy is really important to understand that if we take the variables of aviation and we put them into more constants, we develop as many constants to deal with those variables as possible, we fly in a safer environment.

So how do we integrate that? How do we bake that in the cake? And I think the way we bake it in the cake is early on we explain the philosophy of dark cockpit. We explain the philosophy of quiet cockpit. We explain the philosophy of sterile cockpit. We explain the philosophy of checklist utilization, which is whether it’s a do list or a done list, there’s a reason why.

Why do we have memory response items or what’s sometimes referred to as boldfaced items. If we just give a little bit of explanation it will go so much further in the buy in and you bake a better cake. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

Paula Williams:   Right.

David Santo: So even at a very rudimentary level, the flight school owners and operators should implement some level of SOP, cockpit SOP, for their flight instructors.

And I’ll give you an example. Do we have standardized terminology amongst all of our flight instructors on how we assume control of the aircraft? Does everybody use the same terminology, phraseology so there’s no ambiguity. So no matter who the student is flying with, they know instantly when that instructor says this and it’s standardized, that means the instructor’s taking control of the airplane.

Paula Williams:   Right.

David Santo: Is there a standardization for things like, in the Cherokees for example, you have a flap handle that it’s very easy for the student on go-around to dump the flap to go to a zero flap position. So is there an SOP, standard operating practice, that the instructors will guard that flap handle to make sure that that can’t happen.

So that they’re prepared for it. It’s identifying just little things like that. And explaining it gives us a foundation for SOPS we build on for the rest of their career and makes them from the beginning using that law of primacy upholding to standard operating practices and procedures.

Paula Williams:   I can see how this would’ve saved a lot of time.

Even though I was not in an airline pilot career track, when I was a student, I was very frustrated by the fact that every time I had a different instructor things were done very differently. And I know I spent a lot more money on my private pilot license than I probably needed to.

Because I was learning things four different ways for the four different instructors that I sometimes had, depending on the time that I was able to schedule. So I think this is efficiency for the airline or for the flight schools, as well as being able to deliver a better product to the airlines.

So even if you’ve got private pilot people, if you’ve got a bunch of mixed students, if you have a standardized SOPs, standardized operating procedures, I can see how that would be a real benefit to the students as well as the airlines.

David Santo: It’s a benefit to the school, it’s a benefit to the instructors, it’s a benefit to the student, but it takes a little effort.

It takes a little time and sweat equity to make sure that everybody is standardized. Now lesson plans, by their very nature, are trying to standardize the training sessions or the events. And I am not one who is a supporter of scripts.

Paula Williams:   Right.

David Santo: I’ve seen flight schools where they’ve gone to such an extreme trying to standardize that they’re trying to script the lessons.

The script doesn’t work, because there’s too many variables involved. Students learn at different rates. Students need to hear things explained different ways. So a script is really too restrictive, too cumbersome, on the part of the instructor and the student. But a lesson plan with standard operating procedures, policies and practices in place becomes a very effective tool.

Now there’s always going to be technique Paula. So we have to separate SOP and technique. Technique can be two or three different ways of accomplishing the same outcome that still comply within the SOP.

Paula Williams:   Okay, that makes sense.

David Santo: So techniques are okay and when you’re working with different instructors you expect to get different techniques.

Paula Williams:   Right.

David Santo: But you’re trying to narrow that to a manageable envelope, which we call the SOP. So I really do think that there’s just a huge benefit for everybody involved to take a four P approach to your SOPs. Understand the philosophy behind it Filter it through the 4 P’s.

Filter it, is the philosophy make sense? Is it scalable? Does it work across all of our training curriculums? Then create policies on training your instructors and documenting your SOP’s so that you can create procedures that actually work, and then implement practice, put them into practice, and make sure that you’re holding people accountable to the SOP’s, just like we do in the airlines.

We don’t have an option, I, as an airline pilot, if I don’t comply with the SOP’s, I’m literally in violation of company and federal aviation rules.

Paula Williams:   Right.

David Santo: So, it’s not optional.

Paula Williams:   Yeah.

David Santo: So those jobs are still there. But there are not enough of them.

Paula Williams:   Um-hm.