LEADER’S FIELD GUIDE
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the phase Aviate, Navigate, Communicate serves as a simple checklist when responding to challenging, surprising, and alarming situations. Aviate: use flight controls and instruments to direct the airplane’s attitude, airspeed, and altitude.” Navigate: “figure out where you are and where you’re going.” Communicate: “talk to [Air Traffic Control (ATC)] or someone outside the airplane.” On a routine flight from New York to Texas the Southwest Flight 1380 flight crew demonstrated this perfectly.
Captain Tammie Jo Shults, a former United States Navy pilot, and First Officer Darren Ellisor, a former United States Air Force pilot, responded to an engine explosion and resulting damage to the left wing and passenger cabin. Responding to cockpit alarms, a sudden 40-degree roll, and a rapid loss of cabin pressure, Captain Shults said, in a subsequent interview:
“Well, after that, it was just up to flying: aviate, navigate, communicate.” ~ Capt. Shults
How do you relate your work to the following checklist?
- Aviate: Later, the flight crew would learn that it was one of the 24 fan blades in the left engine that failed due to metal fatigue. But, in flight, the crew was called to immediately control an unexpected roll of more than 40 degrees (about 15 degrees more than a normal turn). Captain Shults, who also trained Navy pilots once said, “As long as you have altitude and ideas, you have a shot.” What are you trying to land? How can you lengthen your runway? What navigational switches need your attention?
- Navigate: Once the airplane was stabilized, Shults selected a new destination, not the closest airport, but the one that could best handle their emergency. Philadelphia International Airport was shut down and all other flights were diverted! As they flew over the city’s skyscrapers, ATC can be heard saying “Southwest 1380, speed is your discretion. Maintain any altitude above 3,000 feet…” Tall buildings in your path won’t give way, but when you’ve got something critical or important, other plans are abandoned and people get out of your way!
- Communicate: First Officer Ellisor said during a CBS This Morning interview that the first job in the cockpit is to “get on oxygen,” care for ourselves, and communicate to each other before communicating with the ATC or the passenger cabin. In fact, it was so loud in the cockpit, the pilots used sign language to confirm next steps and specific roles. For example, Shults flew the plane while Ellisor ran through the emergency checklist (which included discontinuing fuel to the failed engine). Be intentional about when, with whom, and about what you communicate.
Now, you may not have been one of the first U.S. Navy fighter pilots or landed an F-18 Hornet on an aircraft carrier (like Captain Shults), but you are responsible for responding to the challenging, surprising, and alarming situations in your own workplace. Consider executing the aviate, navigate, communicate checklist.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Sugerman (PMP, PCC) is a speaker, author, and leadership coach with Leading Synergies. She founded Synergy Groups, virtual masterminds connecting all Christians, everywhere, for the purpose of Community, Accountability, Transformation, and Leadership. She also partners with high-performers and heirs-apparent especially in the STEM industries. Michelle’s formal background in technology, franchise, and project management gives her an edge on implementing best practices and scaling towards sustainable success. Michelle lives in Colorado where she hikes fourteeners and enjoys gourmet meals with her loving husband of 22 years.