Why are Flight Training Briefs and Debriefs Important, and Why Should Students and Instructors Insist on Them?

flight training briefs and debriefsPaula Williams:   Let’s use an example of maybe an outline for maybe briefs and debriefs. So briefs are before a flight, debriefs are after a flight, I’m assuming that’s the context we’re meaning here.

David Santo: Yeah, so, again if you go back to The Fundamentals of Instruction, which is the book all flight instructors have to become very familiar with when we go for our CFI’s.

Paula Williams:   Yeah.

David Santo: The airplane is a horrible learning environment.

Paula Williams:  


David Santo: It’s loud.

Paula Williams:   It is.

David Santo: There’s a lot of distractions. There’s a lot of things happening that may be beyond the target of what the lesson is. Your focus on that lesson might be stall recovery. But you also gotta deal with other aircraft traffic, you got radio communications. You’ve got the aircraft engine and it’s performance, you’ve got all these different variables mixed in there.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the airplane is a good place to practice what you’ve learned. It’s a good place to validate what you’ve learned. It’s not the best place to learn it.

Paula Williams:   Yes.

David Santo: The real learning happens in the briefings and the debriefings. So again, if your SOP for your company is to make sure that you have very thorough briefs and debriefs, you will number one, be mimicking what we do in the airlines.

When we go into the aircraft simulator, it’s structured that you will have an hour or more of prebrief. And you will have 30 minutes or longer of a debrief. The goal of the briefing is to teach and review the homework and to verify that the student understands what’s coming, and understands the actions that are going to be required, and understands the lesson objectives, and practical pilot test standards that have to be met to be satisfactory at this maneuver.

The debrief is sometimes the hardest, but it’s one of the most effective. And the debrief unfortunately is where you have to say here’s what was good, and here’s what was not so good, and here’s areas where we have lots of room for improvements. So we learn very well by structured debriefs.

And you have to have the rapport set with the student. You have to make sure that the student-instructor relationship is such that this isn’t personal, there’s no personal attacks, don’t take it personally, don’t be offended. It is very impartial. I am just telling you what went well, what did not go well.

Paula Williams:   Yeah.

David Santo: And what needs a lot of focus. And a lot of times, you know in my experience, I like to let the students debrief me on their performance. And a lot of times they will pinpoint where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, and then I just add some additional comments.

Great learning opportunity, as long as we don’t build a wall and get offended or get defensive, but we stay receptive and we say okay, I need to work on that, I’m going to do this, we have to do that. You know what? Doing that routinely, it makes us better pilots in the airplane, because part of cockpit resource management is being able to have very clear, unambiguous, and sometimes difficult conversations in the flight deck.

Paula Williams:   Mm-hm.

David Santo: Right? So if we practice that in the briefings and the debriefings, it carries over into our ability to be unemotional about those conflicts that are going to happen in the cockpit.

Paula Williams:   So if you have maybe a standard format for a debrief, it sets up the student’s comfort level so that all they’re focusing on is the content of that particular debrief, not the fear of the unknown, the am I going to get yelled at for this, they know they have a relationship with the instructor such that we’re going to spend a couple of minutes doing this, and then we’re going to talk about the structure of the flight.

We’re going to go over this outline of things every single time we do a debrief. So I know what’s coming. I’m not afraid of this interaction, or I’m not concerned about this interaction. I can learn more from it. Does that accurately kind of sum up why that needs to be standard?

David Santo: Yeah, absolutely, you don’t want any surprises in the airplane, right?

Paula Williams:   Yeah, right.

David Santo: We want to make sure that we’re fully briefed on today’s lesson is going to include this, this and this, and let’s make sure that you understand before we go and spend money on a very expensive airplane flight.

Yeah. The fundamentals and everything you need to have in your toolbox before you go get in that airplane.

Paula Williams:   Right.

David Santo: So the briefings instructors should embrace it. Students should demand it.

Paula Williams:   Yeah.

David Santo: Students should absolutely want. And if you get into a situation where maybe the instructor is, hey you did fine, let’s just call it a day.

That’s where there’s a dual responsibility here. Number one, the instructor should never discard the value of the brief and debrief. And number two, The student needs to insist upon it. Hey, before we call it quits, can we go over the flight? So if the instructor doesn’t offer a debrief, or offer briefing, the student should ask for it.

And really kind of go through the whole lesson themselves. Both pilots, both of us have a responsibility to encourage the brief, encourage the debrief, and make sure we do it, because it’s easy, at the end of a flight when you’re hot and you’re tired to say let’s blow it off.

You’re not going to remember the information as clearly to communicate two or three days later when you meet again. So you really should do that debriefing following that flight.

Paula Williams:   Okay.

David Santo: And it’s not pleasant, but you need to do it. That makes sense, and that actually begins the relationship and I’d never thought of it this way because I was just a private student, that when you’re entering that airplane you are a flight crew.

You and your instructor are the pilot and co-pilot of that aircraft and you both have that responsibility. So you’re not just paying for service, you’re actually entering into a partnership every time you enter that airplane. So you need to be prepared for that, and you need to discuss it afterwards, so.

You really are a flight crew, and you are really practicing the fundamentals of what you will use later on to function as a two-crew. Whether you’re going to be a military pilot or a corporate pilot it doesn’t matter, right? We have to be able to work together as a team.

Paula Williams:   Mm-hm.

David Santo: And that’s kinda what you’re doing, but we need to set those parameters.

Paula Williams:   Okay.

David Santo: To make sure that we’re getting the most out of it.