Flying is exhilarating, challenging, and eye-opening. But it can be all of those things for all the wrong reasons without proper safety knowledge and precautions. We’ve laid out the top safety tips you need to know to be safe in the skies.
Pre-Flight Safety –
Before you enter the cockpit you should have already taken strides toward safe stewardship in the air. You aren’t ready to fly until you have reviewed three conditions – that of your aircraft, the weather, and yourself.
Keep Emergency Procedures Fresh in Your Mind
Good intentions don’t make a safe pilot. Reviewing safety procedures and staying up to date on best practices do. The AOPA is a good resource on safety practices for pilots. It offers webinars and other online learning opportunities to keep pilots informed on safety.
Always Follow a Pre-Flight Checklist
Mistakes happen but mindless errors can be avoided if the proper safeguards are in place. Keep a checklist of the most important, necessary checks required to fly safely for each flight. This pre-flight checklist should cover checking the landing gear position lights, fuel gauges, and magnetos, among other tasks.
Follow Your Gut – Don’t Fly if You’re Uneasy
If your intuition is telling you something is wrong or the weather is too rough, trust yourself. Don’t let yourself be pressured into flying. This could put you into a dangerous situation that would have otherwise been avoided.
Avoid Flying When Sick
If you have cold or flu symptoms, it’s best to avoid flying. Piloting an aircraft requires management of multiple tasks and complete focus. The focus necessary to fly is hard to muster when you are battling flu-like symptoms.
It isn’t safe for you or your passengers to take the risks associated with flying while sick.
Follow the IMSAFE Checklist
The International Helicopter Safety Team encourages pilots to access themselves using the IMSAFE checklist before taking flight.
In short, IMSAFE is an acronym that stands for:
It makes the pilot consider how they are feeling and if they are under the influence in any way. Flying tired or after you’ve taken medication may leave you feeling okay, but it can have the same effects as flying while intoxicated.
Use the Three Strikes Rule
As you are preparing for flight, pay attention to any minor mistakes you make. Nearly forgetting to buckle your seatbelt on its own might not seem like a big deal. But when you couple that mistake with two others, it could be a sign that you aren’t mentally focused enough to safely pilot an aircraft.
Three strikes and you should be out of the cockpit.
Keep Your Aircraft Maintained and Insured
Proper maintenance of your aircraft is a must. Check for faulty parts during a visual pre-flight check. This should have an interior and exterior portion, focusing on lights, gauges, sensors, and other key parts of your aircraft which are necessary for a safe flight.
Your aircraft should be 100% sound every time you fly. No exceptions.
Owners, renters, and pilots should all be insured. If you are piloting an aircraft you don’t own, that doesn’t mean you should be flying insurance-free. Pilots should hold medical payments coverage, aircraft liability insurance, and aircraft physical damage coverage.
In-Flight Safety –
Safety shouldn’t be cast aside once you’re in the air. Ensure you follow these safe in-flight practices to cut down on your chance of mistakes.
Stay Focused by Eliminating Distractions
By limiting conversations and activities to those related to the current task, you are ensuring a “sterile cockpit”. The Federal Aviation Administration went so far as to write a sterile cockpit rule. According to this rule, the cockpit must be devoid of distraction unrelated to the task during all critical flight phases. These phases include:
These rules were created from the compilation and study of airplane crashes across the United States.
Don’t Rely on a GPS
GPS certainly makes flying easier, but don’t let it become a crutch for you. If something transpires and interferes with your GPS, you need to be able to safely navigate your aircraft.
GPS NOTAMS are sent out in briefings and depict where GPS interference testing will take place. Plan your flight paths accordingly and take note if you will be traveling through an interference zone.
Know Radio Communication Rules
Communication is key, on the ground and in the air. Do your part to make the skies safer by communicating properly and following radio etiquette.
For example, never use the words ‘to’ or ‘for’ when communicating via radio. These numbers can warp your statements and convey false information to the receiving end.
Use the Who-Where-What Format
To eliminate confusion between towers and pilots, aviators developed a system to best convey their messages. Structure your calls by identifying who, where, and then what. For example:
- 1. Start with who you are calling
- 2. Identify your aircraft
- 3. State your altitude and location
- 4. Finish off with your message
Use Color and Make / Model to Identify Yourself
When identifying yourself in areas that have no tower, list out your color and model. Tail numbers are usually used as identifiers but are not easy for other pilots to spot. In fact, if they can easily read your tail number a dangerous situation is underway.
Be ICAO Compliant
ICAO compliance has recognized the easiest way to convey numbers to avoid misinterpretation by the receiving end. To stay ICAO compliant you would say ‘Tree’ instead of ‘three’ and ‘fife’ instead of ‘five’. Five could easily be misheard as fire, meaning to shoot, hence the distinction with the double ‘f’.
As with three and five, nine should be pronounced differently. ‘Niner’ helps to avoid confusing it with the work ‘nein’ which is German for ‘no’.
Never Fly Below 1000 Feet
Flying below 1,000 feet presents potential problems when faced with engine failure. 90% of stall-spins occur below 1,000 feet, a distance that doesn’t offer even experienced pilots enough time to recover.
Think ahead to any flight emergencies or malfunctions that might occur. If it happens at the current altitude you’re flying at, will you have enough time to right the situation?
Get More Practice
Naturally the more miles you have in the air the better pilot you are. Flying more often will put your skills into action, keep your muscle memory tight, and present you with new learning experiences. More experience never hurt anyone so get to flying.