When you learn to fly, one of the first things that your flight instructor will teach you is what to look for on the airplane before your go fly. Performing a preflight inspection of the aircraft is often one of the first things that your instructor will “solo” you on as well. He or she may be debriefing with another student, grabbing a quick bite, or taking care of other needs as you are sent out to the airplane to look things over. A good instructor will take a look at a few critical items and quiz you on your findings when he or she arrives at the airplane but the bulk of the responsibility will be on your shoulders.
Are You Doing a Good Job?
As you are performing the preflight inspection, are you doing a good job? Are you using the aircraft manufacturer’s checklist or an enhanced checklist based upon the manufacturer’s checklist or relying on your memory of that first lesson with your instructor to complete the task? Are you really looking at all of the essential items or are you simply going through the motions?
Complacency during the preflight inspection can be a problem. Don’t allow yourself to get into a “it made it back from the last flight so it must be okay” mentality. You do not want to just go through the motions. You really do need to take a look at the airplane and its components during your inspection.
A checklist of some type is essential and the manufacturers of airplanes built in the last 40 years provide a good place to start in the handbook or manual supplied with the airplane. Older airplanes may have a less thorough list but they usually include something as well. Checklists may get updated by the manufacturer via service bulletin or airworthiness directive so you will want to ensure that you are utilizing the latest version including its modifications.
The manufacturer checklist will generally not get modified when additional or replacement equipment gets installed on the airplane. This is where an enhanced checklist may be appropriate. Ensure that your checklist addresses procedural changes that any new or replacement equipment may require.
Another place that checklist enhancements may be appropriate is when the manufacturer’s checklist just doesn’t seem to flow well with your airplane. Enhancing the order of the checklist items can sometimes make it work better. Just don’t forget to include all of the appropriate items to check.
Speaking of flows, some instructors will teach their students to preflight the airplane as a flow. This is fine but it should be backed up with a checklist to ensure that no critical details are missed.
It is also a good idea to review your preflight process on occasion with a trusted flight instructor. You might be missing something inadvertently or misunderstanding something that your instructor can clarify.
Preflight like it matters, because it does.
They Won’t Fix It Anyway
There have been times in my past that I have heard students or other flight instructors proclaim that there is no use bringing a preflight finding to maintenance or to management because they won’t fix it anyway. If you are at a flight school that truly has this attitude, pack up your stuff and find a new flight school.
It is not unusual for maintenance or management personnel to defer the immediate repair of a non-airworthiness item. Just ensure that the requirements of §91.213 Inoperative instruments and equipment have been met so that you are legal to fly the airplane. If you are not comfortable with the deferral or you believe that it truly is an airworthiness item, exercise your authority as pilot in command and do not fly the airplane in that condition. If that means that you do not fly that day, always remember that it is better to be on the ground wishing that you were in the air than to be in the air, wishing that you were on the ground.
Legally deferred maintenance items should be tracked by the flight school or operator of the aircraft and they should be repaired at an appropriate time. If tracked deferrals just disappear from the list and are never repaired, this would be another time to find a new flight school.
Advanced Preflight after Maintenance
In their ongoing effort to reduce loss of control (LOC) accidents, the FAA recently released a reminder to all pilots that we need to Be Alert After Maintenance because there have been a number of serious and fatal LOC accidents resulting from poor preflight inspections after a maintenance event. In the message they state that you should do advanced preflight checks after maintenance, especially if the maintenance involved multiple systems on the aircraft.
From the article: Advanced Preflights go above and beyond the normal preflight checklist. Create your checklist by reviewing the maintenance history of the aircraft, and once you have that information, develop your additional items checklist. Once you have made this list, you can use it in all future preflight inspections. Find and review all aircraft records, including receipts, work orders, FAA Form 337s (Major Repair and Alteration forms) and approval for return to service tags (8130-3 Forms). Find any Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) data, including information on items no longer installed on the aircraft.
They also included some additional tips in the article:
- Become familiar with all controls and systems before maintenance, and create a baseline. Having this information will make it easier for you to find any “abnormal” functions after maintenance.
- Coordinate with your mechanic to determine exactly what has been accomplished. Give those systems an extra look-over before flight.
- Pay particular attention to the aircraft components that were replaced or repaired. If you suspect a problem, ask your mechanic to recheck the aircraft.
- Be ready to abort take-off if something doesn’t feel right.
- For the first flight, stay in the pattern within gliding distance to the runway.
Your safety, and the safety of those who fly with you, depends on your vigilance. Check, ask questions, and recheck. Your life may depend on it!
The article contains a link to an FAA FAASTeam Fact Sheet on Advanced Preflight After Maintenance. Unfortunately, the link in the article appears to be going to an older version that no longer exists at the moment. An updated version of this Fact Sheet is available from the FAA Fact Sheets website.
Don’t allow a complacent preflight after maintenance to make you a LOC accident statistic!
Your preflight of the airplane, along with your preflight planning and decision making are the first steps in helping to ensure that you are a safety conscious pilot. Flying is not without risks but a good pilot will work to mitigate the risks to improve his or her chances of a successful flight.
Be a good pilot and fly safe!