You would think that having more than one pilot in an airplane would automatically make it twice as safe, but you would be wrong. In fact, the NTSB has files of airplane accidents where the presence of more than one pilot actually contributed to the accident. What’s happening? A couple of things.

First of all, there is sometimes a reluctance to question another pilot, assuming they know better than you. After a series of accidents, 2-pilotsincluding the Tenerife disaster in 1977, the airlines started to stress CRM, or Cockpit Resource Management. The shift was from “Don’t ever question the Captain” to, “You are obliged to question the Captain, and he is obliged to listen.” While the final decision still belongs to him, the thinking was, “We have two qualified and trained people in the cockpit- that’s a great resource we spent a lot of money on developing, so let’s use it.”

Of course, there are personalities involved, and it might not be a comfortable situation for the non-flying pilot. John and Martha King had the same problem, compounded by the fact that, not only were they both highly-trained and competent pilots, they were also man and wife. There’s another interesting wrinkle for you!

Their solution was simple and has worked for them. The non-flying pilot always addresses the flying pilot as “Captain.” As in, “Captain, our assigned altitude is 7000.”  It is a respectful acknowledgment of the PIC’s final authority, and at the same time, gets some important information out there where it belongs.

An even more common scenario is that no one in the cockpit is absolutely certain who’s in charge and as a result, nobody is actually flying the airplane.

The FAA expects a positive exchange of flight controls, which we teach from the very beginning at Charleston Flight School. It can be as simple as “My airplane” but what the FAA (read your examiner) is looking for is a three-way positive exchange. From the horse’s mouth:

When the flight instructor wishes the student to take control of the aircraft, he/she says to the student, “You have the flight controls.”

The student acknowledges immediately by saying, “I have the flight controls.”

The flight instructor again says, “You have the flight controls.”

During this procedure, a visual check is recommended to see that the other person actually has the flight controls.

When returning the controls to the instructor, the student should follow the same procedure the instructor used when giving control to the student. The student should stay on the controls and keep flying the aircraft until the instructor says, “I have the flight controls.”

There should never be any doubt as to who is flying the aircraft.

This is spelled out in AC 61-115 and also includes this line:

Pilot examiners should discuss this procedure with all pilot applicants prior to the flight portion of any practical test.

In other words, make sure you and your CFI follow this procedure every time and your checkride will be that much smoother.