ICAO to hear concerns over checklist vulnerabilities

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Checklist design will be on the agenda of an ICAO high-level safety conference this month, following the fatal loss of a Spanair Boeing MD-82 during take-off at Madrid two years ago.

Spanish delegates, on behalf of European air transport authorities, are set to put forward a proposal to apply safety management principles to checklist design.

Spanair flight JK5022 crashed in August 2008 after its crew failed to extend the MD-82's flaps.

Investigators found that the pilots twice missed a specific check on the flap deployment while taxiing out for a departure which had already previously been interrupted by a technical problem.

The Spanish presentation states that checklists "continue to be long and protracted" and adds that they do not necessarily prioritise the most important items.

"It is not unusual that the sequence of safety-critical items to be verified does not reflect the safety hierarchy or the importance of the verification to be performed," it says.

Linear, uninterrupted checklists, it adds, are inconsistent with concurrent and frequently-interrupted flight-deck activity, and while checklist availability is considered a safety barrier, specific standard procedures to support the checklist process are absent.

"In particular, clear procedures on how to proceed when the execution of a checklist is interrupted, and how to ensure checklists are completed after an interruption, are not always available," it says.

Application of basic safety management principles has shown "promising potential" to protect against vulnerabilities during high-workload phases of flight operations, and the delegation will formally propose that ICAO studies the application of these principles to checklist design and procedures.