Top 19 Aviation Safety Tips For Pilots
Aviation safety is a long, complicated subject. The complexity of operating aircraft is so high that it’s impossible to foresee every possible situation. With that said, there are a number of aviation safety tips for pilots that can dramatically reduce the possibility of an “unplanned event”.
1) Use Your Checklists
Checklists exist for a reason. Not the least of which is because there’s no way that we could possibly remember everything we need to in order to fly safely. Use your checklists. Don’t skip them because you’re in cruise flight and it’s only a couple of items.
2) Conduct Thorough Inspections
You should conduct thorough Preflight AND Postflight inspections.
Again, checklists exist for a reason. Most pilots are good about conducting their pre-flight inspections. These are critical to making sure that the aircraft is safe to operate and should never be skipped or completed hastily. Be thorough and detailed. If something is questionable, make sure it’s addressed, even if that means postponing your flight.
Do you conduct a postflight inspection as well? If not, you should. You may find things that happened during your flight that need to be addressed. This gives you time to deal with anything now as opposed to before you’re on the ramp ready to depart, which may tempt you to overlook minor issues in favor of “getting in the air”.
3) Check Your Gear Multiple Times
They say that there are two types of pilots. Those that have had a gear-up landing and those that will. Well, maybe they don’t actually say that but they should (who is “they”, anyway?).
If you fly an airplane with retractable gear, check your gear multiple times on your final approach checklist. Aviation insurance agents will tell you that one of the most common claims for small aircraft is the dreaded gear-up landing. Don’t be a statistic. Check your gear two or three times, just to be safe.
Read also: Why Do Pilots Do A Go Around?
4) Keep Up Your Proficiency
Notice that I’m referring to proficiency, not currency. Just because you’re current doesn’t mean that you’re proficient. Practice as often as possible. If you can afford to bring an instructor along with you for an hour every month or two, do it.
It’s easy to get complacent when we’ve been doing something a while. Don’t allow yourself to think that you don’t need to keep your skills sharp.
The best pilots are always learning.
5) Practice Emergency Procedures
Some of the most important things to practice are your emergency procedures. In addition to your memory items, be sure and practice slow flight and power-off maneuvers. When you have a major event like an engine failure, you need to be ready. This means being able to safely fly the plane while going through your memory checklist. Many pilots have spun in because they weren’t able to do these two things at the same time.
Don’t forget all the little things as well. These are more likely to happen than the big things. Don’t forget to practice what to do when you have an ill passenger or when you have a partial panel failure. There are myriad possibilities and you need to be prepared for all of them.
6) Leave Nothing To Chance
Again, you need to be prepared for the worst. It’s not possible to practice every possible scenario but you can certainly prepare for “types” of scenarios. Think of everything you can that can possibly go wrong, then group them together by how you would respond. Your response will be similar for emergencies, allowing you to minimize the number of responses you need to practice.
While it’s not always practical to read it, make sure that you have your Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) within reach and that you have the emergency procedures section marked for easy reference. Make this part of your preflight briefing so your front seat passenger can assist in the event of an emergency. You may be busy flying the plane but if your passenger can read, he/she can find and read off the procedures to you.
7) Don’t Rely Solely On One Navigation Method
With modern avionics, it’s easy to plug your flight plan into the GPS, hit the autopilot, and go. While there’s nothing wrong with that, make sure you’re also following along using another method, even if it’s just visually tracking your location.
When the GPS fails, you don’t want to be scratching your head wondering where you are. You should be able to complete the flight as planned, even if it means transitioning to a paper chart.
8) Don’t Rely Too Much On Technology
Again, technology is a great thing. But technology can fail. That super-duper flight tracking app on your tablet goes away when the tablet overheats (yes, that’s a thing). If you’re dependent on seeing the little picture of your airplane overlayed on a map, you’re going to be in trouble when the app shuts down.
Read also: What Do Pilots Carry In Their Flight Bags?
This applies to onboard technology as well. Autopilots are fantastic tools that add a tremendous amount of safety to the flight environment. However, make sure you also hand-fly the plane regularly.
Don’t let your stick and rudder skills atrophy because you spend all your flight time pushing buttons and twisting knobs.#ProTip
Stick and rudder skills are important (especially rudder skills!). Don’t forget the basics.
9) Fly The Airplane
There are times when the pilot workload can get overwhelming. Remember that first and foremost, your job is to fly the airplane. Don’t let yourself get so task saturated that your attention is diverted from what’s important.
Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.Notice that “Aviate” comes first.
This can happen to anyone. It’s what happened to Air France flight 447 in 2009. The Airbus A330 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after the pilots got so focused on an airspeed discrepancy that they failed to notice that the aircraft was in a deep stall.
10) Communicate With ATC
When you’re flying in controlled airspace, you’re required to be in contact with Air Traffic Control. However, don’t be afraid to contact them and let them know what you’re up to. If you’re flying “under the shelf” of the local Class Bravo to skirt the airspace, contact ATC and let them know your intentions.
No, it’s not required but it makes their job easier. By knowing what you plan to do, they know where they can vector the traffic under their control. They may also be able to keep traffic out of your way or give you traffic warnings.
11) Ask For Help
If you find yourself in a sticky situation, ask for help. Accidents are the result of compounding issues. If you don’t keep your head straight and recognize when you need some help you’re asking for trouble. If you inadvertently fly into IMC and are unable to immediately reverse course back into VMC, call ATC. Tell them you need assistance so you don’t fly into the side of a mountain.
It’s better to be embarrassed than dead.#ProTip
If you need to declare an emergency, fine. Do it. It’s far better to have to answer difficult questions from the FAA after the fact than it is to not make it to your destination.
12) Be Self Aware
Pilots need to be self-aware and perform self-assessments both before and while they’re flying. They need to asses both their physical and mental conditions. If you only got two hours sleep last night, you probably shouldn’t be flying a plane (or driving to the airport, for that matter). If your doctor put you on medication that makes you drowsy, that’s a big no-go for flying.
Your mental state is also important. If you just had a death in the family, you may be too distracted or out of sorts to be in the cockpit. Making a number of errors while flying, no matter how small, is also an indication that you may be better off on the ground. If you find yourself making silly mistakes while in the air, the best decision you can make is to get the plane on the ground and terminate your flight. Yes, it may be inconvenient, but it’s far better than the alternative.
I’M SAFE Checklist
Use the IM SAFE checklist to make sure that you are personally prepared for your flight:
Illness: Do I have any symptoms?
Medication: Have I been taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs?
Stress: Am I under psychological pressure from the job? Am I worried about financial matters, health problems, or family discord?
Alcohol: Have I been drinking within 8 hours?
Fatigue: Am I tired and not adequately rested?
Emotion: Am I emotionally upset?
The FAA Safety Briefing on Single Pilot Crew Resource Management is also a good source of information for aviation safety tips for pilots.
13) Avoid Distractions
Distraction in the cockpit is a major contributing factor to accidents. Observe the sterile cockpit rule, whereby there’s no talking during the final phase of your flight.
Cover this in your preflight briefing with your passengers (you DO conduct a preflight briefing, don’t you?). Make sure that your passengers all understand why they need to keep quiet during certain phases of flight. Or any time you tell them to.
14) Maintain Your Airplane
Proper aircraft maintenance is a must. It’s also expensive, which results in a tendency to “put off” minor maintenance issues. This is not a good habit to get into. Maintaining your airplane should always be a top priority.
With that said, it’s understandable that sometimes money is tight and paying the mortgage will win out over pouring money into your aircraft. If you’re forced to defer some maintenance, then take the extra step of grounding the plane until you can get the maintenance completed. You can always rent a plane to keep current.
When it’s time for your annual inspection, there’s also always the option of doing an owner-assisted annual. Many A&Ps will offer this service, which allows you to get the necessary maintenance done while saving some money by doing the grunt work yourself.
15) Don’t Trust Your Fuel Gauges
Fuel gauges are there for reference. Don’t use them for an indication of your fuel status. You should know how much fuel you have at any point during the flight simply by referring to your flight/fuel planning.
If you see a dramatic change in the level indicated by your fuel gauge, it certainly may be an indication of a leak or some sort of mechanical issue. For this reason, you don’t want to ignore them. However, your fuel gauges should be used in combination with your fuel planning for the flight.
16) Always Keep Adequate Reserves
It goes without saying that you need adequate fuel reserves. Beyond the FAA required minimums, you should also plan your reserves based on your specific flight.
Plan for enough fuel to go all the way to your destination and then divert to a reasonable alternate airport, while still maintaining FAA required minimums. If you can’t make it that far, add in a fuel stop so you don’t push your luck. Chances are, your bladder will need the break anyway.
17) Avoid “Get-There-Itis”
Pushing to get to a destination is a major contributing cause of accidents.
Just don’t do it.
You need to go into every flight with the clear understanding that you may get delayed or have to cancel. This is just the nature of general aviation. Just because you have an instrument rating doesn’t mean that you will always be able to complete your flight.
Often the smart thing to do is to park the plane and get a hotel room for the night. If you’re really desperate to get somewhere, you can always rent a car.
Read also: What Pilots Can Learn From The Draco Crash
18) Altitude Is Your Friend
Flying low and slow is one of the things that pilots love about flying. Cruising gently over the countryside can be a peaceful, enjoyable experience. However, always be sure to maintain situational awareness. When you have a mechanical issue at 700 feet AGL, you don’t have many options for getting the plane safely on the ground.
Altitude equals time.#WordsThatCanSaveYourLife
This is why altitude can be your best friend. Not only is altitude your friend, but it can save your life. Altitude equals time. The higher you are when you have a problem, the more time you have to sort it out and/or find a safe place to land.
19) Flight Following
Use Flight Following whenever possible. Yes, it requires that you have occasional radio contact with ATC. But that’s a good thing. When ATC’s providing flight following for you, they’re watching out for you. They’re there to keep you safe from other traffic, terrain, or any other potential danger that they can see. This is one of the best services that ATC provides. Use it.
While there likely many more aviation safety tips for pilots, following these will keep you out of trouble 99% of the time.