The most pointless call

Every person has a list of pet peeves and that is especially so for pilots. Last Sunday while riding aboard SWA as they made the approach into BWI in IMC at 300 and 1, I was casually reminded of one of my pet peeves- that its the most useless call that any crew member can make in a cockpit.

For those who have not flown in, or aspire to fly in an airline cockpit, the rhythm for both takeoff and approach/landing consists of "calls." This is commonly known as the "Challenge and Response" method of cockpit operations. That is- the pilots are required to say very specific things and respond to those said things in a highly specified manner and wording. As an example, when flying an approach toward minimums, many air carriers will specify in their procedures that the non-flying pilot call certain altitudes as the aircraft nears decision height- such as "500 above" to which the flying pilot must respond, simply and exactly, "500 above." This strict system of calls keeps the cockpit clean and focused. On occasion, crews will pre-brief calls not in the procedures manual to meet safety needs. An example being an approach into weather that can produce wind-sheer. In that case the flying pilot can ask that if the airspeed begins to increase over five knots the non-flying pilot will call "airspeed increasing" and the flying pilot will respond "airspeed increasing" then if the airspeed increase hits 10 knots the non-flying pilot will call "wind-sheer" and the flying pilot will then execute the missed approach and respond "missed approach." Other than situations such as that, extraneous or non-standard calls during these critical times are not only unsafe, because they are distracting, but are also highly unprofessional- and for me, simply annoying.

Most of the non-standard calls that I've experienced have come from very new airline pilots who still think they're working as CFIIs and cannot resist the urge to teach instruments while going down the approach, and old-timer pilots who simply need to be placed into a nursing home, given a recliner with a yoke attached and told that they're still flying.

For me, the most annoying non-standard call always comes while you're making an approach down to, or near minimums. That call is "Intermittent Ground Contact." What makes this utterance so dangerous and annoying is the time at which it is spoken, which is normally when you are close in on the approach. It always tells me that the non-flying pilot is looking out the wrong window and in the wrong direction at the worst time. Frankly I'd rather have 'em looking at their laptop and talking about the current Preferential Bidding System- at least that way I'd actually know I was flying the approach alone all the way in.

In order to see this intermittent ground contacts through the clouds, the non-flying pilot has to be looking out the side window and usually straight down. I need their eyes looking toward the runway and on a slant equal to the approach path. I want them to call those runway lights so I can get that extra 100 feet of descent. Worst of all, I'm too low on the approach to reach over and slap the idiot.

What makes the intermittent ground contact call totally pointless is that while you are on an instrument approach, what you can see straight down means absolutely nothing. What you can see on the approach path slant in the direction of the runway at decision height is what matters... PERIOD.

I once flew a God-awful bid with an idiot who, among other annoyances, called "intermittent ground contact" on several of my approaches. I asked the old fart why he kept making that call, because it was not in our procedures. He replied that he was trying to reassure me. Say What?! If you wanna reassure me, put on on neck brace and look straight ahead- that way if your head turns you'll let out a scream like Greg Neidermeyer in Animal House and I'll know your not doing your job.

On another occasion I was on a low approach with the first officer flying and that person asked me to call intermittent ground contact. Not wanting to argue the point during the approach I simply stuck to company procedures and conveniently forgot to make the extraneous call. Later on the way to the hotel I asked why the FO wanted me to call ground contact. The answer was "Because I want to know it's down there." SAY WHAT!? The ground is always there! You run into it on every landing... why do you wanna be reassured that it is where it always is? This is just like the person who says they don't wear a seatbelt in their car because if the car was overturned and on fire in a wreck and they were knocked out- how would they get out? Ever seen a knocked out person get out of a car, or anything else?

Bottom line is the team that makes the approach must have the proper mindset before entering the approach. And I'm not talking about just having your charts in order, bugs set and briefing complete. I'm talking about considering every approach to turn into a missed. Thus, it will be what it will be when you get there- no sweat. You make your calls, you follow your procedures and you do not stray- then everyone goes home. That formula always works. Most professional pilots know this, but you'd be surprised at how many don't get it. So, if your non-flying pilot calls "intermittent ground contact" do me a favor and after you're at the gate dump their flight bag into their lap and then stretch it over their head and shoulders and beat on it like a bongo... I would.

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