Thursday, January 30, 2014

Are you ready for this flight?

Are You Ready To Fly?

All pilots have been exposed to the I.M.S.A.F.E. acronym and its use as a sort of pre-flight check for the pilot. Let's break it down and look at each of the letters individually.

I = Illnesses. Do you have a cold or allergies? If you do, you probably should not be flying.

M = Medications. Are you taking medications of any type either prescription or non-prescription? If you are, make sure that your AME and the FAA allow you to fly with these medications in your system. In flight is the worst possible place to find out your new sinus medication makes you drowsy.

S = Stress. Are you under any kind of stress? Stress by itself is not bad but too much stress will cause distraction and a loss of performance. Not what you need when flying an approach in the soup.

A = Alcohol. How long has it been since you had your last drink? Remember the eight-hour bottle-to-throttle rule. In addition to that don't forget the 0.04% blood alcohol content. Even though you might meet the legal requirements, if you are hungover you won't be operating at maximum.

F = Fatigue. A lack of sleep can not only cause a loss of focus, lose enough sleep and the effects are similar to a night out drinking.

E = Emotions/Eating. Argue with your spouse? Skip breakfast or work through lunch? The combination of being bring dehydrated and having low blood-sugar will cause your performance to suffer.

PAVE Your Way

The above checklist covers the pilot, now let's examine the flight in its entirety using the acronym P.A.V.E..

P = Pilot. Are you up to the planned flight? You have used the I.M.S.A.F.E. checklist above and it show that you are fit for flight. Right? How much time do you have in the aircraft or similar aircraft to the one you are going to be flying? Are you current and proficient? How are your IFR skills? Are your personal skills and training up to making this trip?

A = Aircraft. Does the aircraft meet or exceed the mission requirements? Can it handle the people, fuel, and "stuff" that you are asking it to? Have you calculated the aircraft performance, weight and balance? Does all the required equipment and instrumentation work?

V = enVironment, meaning environment. What is the weather forecast to be? How does the actual weather compare to the forecast? Is it getting better or worse ? Where is the freezing level? Have you checked all en route and destination NOTAMs and TFRs? Remember to wear appropriate clothing for the type of terrain you will be flying over and not the room that you are planning your flight in. Do you have enough survival gear?

E = External Pressures. Why are you making this trip? Does a non pilot passenger not understand your hesitation in launching or why you are considering a diversion? Do you have a meeting or special event such as a graduation or wedding that you are in danger of missing? External pressures can place a huge demand on us to make the trip. The key here is to set your personal minimums and stick to them no matter what. You might say doing that is easier said than done but it really can be that easy. I always have a back up plane to cover the important things. Can I drive, take a train, fly commercially? Pick one and parallel plan so you know that you can make it. Don't forget to plan a little extra time to offer greater flexibility.

Remember, the only life or death situation is the one you may face in the air if you push your luck.

You can never have too much gas. There is no reason to burn your reserves during a normal flight. My personal minimum is one hour fuel in the tanks when I land. If the winds aloft are not in your favor or your routing changes, don't compromise safety. Land and fuel up, be a little late if need be but get there alive.

General aviation has earned a reputation that it doesn't deserve. Flying little planes is not inherently unsafe, it is generally the pilot that causes the plane to stop flying. Sure, mechanical failure can happen to the plane with the best maintenance money can buy or the weather can turn bad at a moments notice but statistics show that the most common error exists between the yoke and the chair.

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