Preflighting Starts at Home

If you’re a pilot already, you know how important your checklists are for flying.  If you haven’t started flying yet, you’ll quickly learn that checklists are the life blood of safety in flight.  But when should you start using checklists?  Are they only for when you start to crank the engine?  We believe the appropriate time to start using your checklists is the night before your next flight.  

A common checklist everyone knows about is the preflight checklist.  Checking all surfaces and controls is a great time to determine if the airplane you’re about to fly is airworthy, its maintenance is up to date and is safe to fly.  My question to you is, if you do this for the airplane, do you do it for the pilot?

Of course, if there isn’t an acronym mentioned, then it’s not an official aviation discussion, right?  In this case, we’re talking about the PAVE acronym.  It stands for Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment and External pressures.  The first word is pilot and the last word is external pressures.  It is these two combined that require further scrutiny.  Do you ask yourself, every time you plan to fly, “Am I safe to fly?”

Maybe you have a training schedule you are trying to keep.  Is that elusive rating taking too long and you just want to get it done?  Perhaps you have some friends counting on you for a fun flight?  Do you have an appointment you just have to keep tomorrow?  All of these are external pressures that weigh in on your thought process.  It might just be too much pressure and put you in a situation where your decision making process becomes compromised.  I don’t mean that you can’t make decisions in this state of mind.  It is more like you might be willing to overlook minor issues that could put you at risk in the air. 

Accidents tend to happen when a series of issues come up and don’t get resolved.  Let’s say you have a thirty minute flight to meet some friends for lunch on a hot summer day.  You’re excited for the fly out and the night before you develop a small cough.  Instead of flight planning, you put it off until morning because their will be plenty of time then.  You take some cough medicine and head off to bed to get a good night’s rest.  You oversleep, maybe due to the medicine and now you’re in a hurry to get to the airport on time so you’re not late for the luncheon.  It’s a short flight so you skip weather check because you’re out of time and you need to cut corners somewhere. 

This is a simple example of a building list of mistakes that seem so basic but can easily happen to anyone.  The pilot is not ok to fly.  Nyquil is considered risky by the FAA and they require you to wait 60 hours after taking a single dose before you fly again.  Skipping the weather check is another mistake.  It is so important that you must let tower or ground know you’ve checked the weather upon initial contact, every time.  If they don’t hear you tell them you’ve checked (We have information oscar), they will read you the weather.  Most importantly, this is a hot summer day, so you’ll need to check density altitudes because they will affect your performance and take off and landing distances. 

This is all about pressure to complete a task.  Pilots are typically goal oriented people and have demonstrated time and again the ability to complete tasks.  So, to change our mindset to give ourselves permission to cancel a flight when things are getting out of control could be the real challenge.  But safety should be and always remain the top priority in everything aviation.   When you preflight an airplane, aren’t you looking for a reason not to fly it?  

What steps do you take to preflight yourself?  Take the time to ask yourself how you’re feeling and whether you are ready for that next flight.  No lunch is worth the risk of not making it.  True friends will understand that you couldn’t make it if you explain that you cancelled your trip due to a safety of flight issue.  And hey, you can always drive instead.