Aspiring Pilots Need To Know And Practice Airline SOPs

A Virgin America airliner climbing out

Photo courtesy of Brandon Farris

As airline pilots, we are directly responsible for, and are the final authority for, the operation of our aircraft. This includes the aircraft and everything in it, crew, passengers, and cargo. The Captain (Pilot in Command) has the final authority over all other assigned crew members from the time they report for duty until the termination of the flight. This also includes transportation to and from the layover facility. To those outside the airline industry, this may seem like an enormous amount of responsibility. It is, but fortunately, almost everything we do is covered in our Flight Operations Manual (FOM). This manual spells out the steps to be taken in a wide range of situations. Within the FOM, the normal operation of the aircraft is covered in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

The SOPs are set up to cover every phase of a flight. These phases of flight include:

• Preflight
• Start
• Before Take Off
• Take Off
• Climb, Cruise, and Decent
• Approach
• Go Around and Landing
• Parking and Post Flight

Flow patterns are used by the Captain and First Officer to configure the aircraft systems for flight in an organized manner without the use of a checklist. These flow patterns a practiced over and over by pilots until they become part of our muscles memory. We almost instinctively are able to complete the required flow for a particular phase of flight. After the flows are complete, a checklist is used to recheck those items most critical to safe flight. Examples include: fuel on board, weight and balance, route of flight, flap setting for take off.

Standardized Training

The concept of Standardized Training as applied to aviation operations is the main reason why the safety record for airlines is so outstanding in this country. The process starts with the aircraft manufactures, mainly Boeing and Airbus. A set of operating procedures are developed by the manufacture for each model of aircraft. When an airline orders and takes delivery of the aircraft, they can choose to use the company procedures, or tailor them to suite their specific operation. Most airlines choose to use a variation of the manufacture’s procedures. In any case, the procedures adopted by the airline will be standard for all pilots flying that aircraft type.

Once a pilot completes the airline’s FAA approved training program, he/she is a competent member of the flight crew team. Two pilots that have never met are able to safely operate the aircraft in the highly complex Air Traffic Control system. Each pilot knows what to do and what to say at the appropriate time. Every action and verbal communication are the same.

Young pilots that aspire to a career with the airlines should seek out training programs that teach Standardized Training and Standard Operating procedures. Flows, checklists, and verbal callouts can be developed for single-engine trainers as well. These procedures can be used from your first flight to completion of your commercial rating. Your transition to the airlines will be that much easier with this training mindset.

This article was written by Michael Moore, an A-320 Captain, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to You can follow him on Twitter @michaelflies or find his blog at

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