Officer Safety

Sterile Cockpits


Michael Warren

May 5, 2022

May 5, 2022

I know - I’ve been referring to the aviation industry a lot recently. Part of the reason is that so much of my research has led me to that industry. And part of the reason is that I’m a dork - I think planes and flying are cool.

One of the concepts that has me thinking a lot lately is “sterile cockpits.” What this refers to are the pilots’ (both of them) activities during certain crucial parts of the flight.

Now for the purposes of this topic, the flight includes all of the time from the closure of the cabin door until the engines are shut down. You know, the parts that can get people hurt or killed.

During the timeframes of a flight there are several especially important times. These include preparation for departure, takeoff, descent, landing, and shut down. Each segment has certain inherent procedures that must be followed to reduce the level and frequency of danger.

The sterile cockpit is simple - during the most crucial times, conversation between the pilots must be restricted to the checklists, duties, and observations must be conducted for safe operation. It is not the time for joking, making plans, complaining about the boss, etc. It’s the time for doing the job.

Here is my question for you? How sterile is your “cockpit?” When it’s time to do the job, how much extraneous stuff do you have going on? Are you on the phone with your significant other? Your kids? Buddies? Are you sending laptop messages to dispatch or your shift partners? Where is your focus? Where should it be?

Listen, I get it. Saying goodnight to our loved ones is important. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s necessary.

But it has to be done at the right time. Done at the wrong time, it can lead to lapses in readiness. Be intentional, keep your cockpit sterile.