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SOP – Standard Operating Procedures

SOP – Standard Operating Procedure – SOPs are written, published and tested procedures that are expected to be universally and consistently applied within an organization.

  • SOPs should identify and describe the standard tasks and duties of a flight crew for each flight phase, including what to do and when to do it.
  • SOPs should be simple, clear, concise and prescriptive.

SOPs should be designed to be accomplished without an aid to recall, such as a checklist. Critical tasks (e.g., selections of systems, changes to aircraft configuration), however, must also include a cross-check for errors through use of normal checklists according to the phase of flight. The briefing note Normal Checklists provides a detailed overview of the scope and use of normal checklists.

  • SOPs (including standard calls) should provide the basis for crew standardization and establish a working environment conducive to enhanced and efficient crew communication and coordination.
  • SOPs should be supplemented as needed by relevant information on specific operating techniques (e.g., adverse weather operation) and by operational recommendations for specific types of operations (e.g., operations on wet or contaminated runways, operations in extended operations ETOPS areas, operations in reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) airspace).
  • SOPs should assume that all aircraft systems are operating in an acceptable manner and that all automatic functions are used as intended. SOPs are for the vast majority of situations in which nothing related to the flight is out of the ordinary range of conditions encountered in the airline’s operations.

Note: A system may be partially or totally inoperative in accordance with a company’s minimum equipment list (MEL)/dispatch deviation guide (DDG) without affecting the SOPs. Dispatch with an acceptable loss of redundancy or function (e.g., an inoperative auxiliary power unit ([APU]) is a “standard” condition as envisioned by SOPs.

SOPs should address and emphasize critical and recurring operational topics, including:

  • Task sharing (who should do)
  • Optimum use of automation (how to use)
  • Operations golden rules
  • Standards calls (what to expect, what to observe)
  • Use of normal checklists
  • Approach and go-around briefings
  • Altimeter setting and cross-check procedures
  • Use of the radio altimeter
  • Descent profile management
  • Energy management
  • Terrain awareness
  • Threat and hazard awareness
  • Elements of a stabilized approach and approach gates
  • Approach procedures and techniques for various types of approaches
  • Landing and braking techniques for various types of runway and wind conditions
  • Readiness and commitment to go around (e.g., ground-proximity warning system [GPWS] warning, unstabilized approach, bounce recovery).


SOP’s are universally recognized as basic tool for  safe aviation operations. Effective crew coordination and crew performance, two central concepts of crew resource management (CRM), depend upon the crew’s having a shared mental model of each task. That mental model, in turn, is founded on SOPs

 SOPs should be clear, comprehensive, and readily available in the manuals used by flight deck crewmembers.

 Many aviation safety organizations including the FAA have recently reaffirmed the importance of SOPs.

For many years the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has identified deficiencies in standard operating procedures as contributing causal factors in aviation accidents. Among the most commonly cited deficiencies involving flightcrews has been their non-compliance with established procedures; another has been the non-existence of established procedures in some manuals used by flightcrews.

 The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has also recognized the importance of SOPs for safe flight operations. Recent amendments to ICAO Annex 6 establish that each member state should require that SOPs for each phase of flight be contained in the operations manual used by pilots.

Non-government aviation safety organizations such as Flight Safety Foundation, (Alexandria, VA) have concluded that airlines perform with higher levels of safety when they establish and adhere to adequate SOPs.

 In 1997 the FAA joined with representatives from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and from a broad cross-section of aviation organizations to form the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST). Chartered by the White House to reduce the commercial aviation accident rate by 80 percent in 10 years, this Team chose controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) as one of the first major aviation hazards to be addressed in meeting this challenge. The Team used a data-driven approach to identify interventions with the highest possible safety leverage, and to develop a comprehensive agenda to implement those interventions.

 In its study of CFIT accidents, a CAST analysis team including the FAA corroborated the findings of the NTSB, ICAO, and other groups. Almost 50 percent of the 107 CFIT interventions identified by that analysis team related to the flightcrew’s failure to adhere to SOPs or the certificate holder’s failure to establish adequate SOPs. Subsequent CAST teams confirmed their analysis further.

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