Question of the month - September

What are some best practices to improve safety for our club?

March 29, 2013

As far back as 1969, the FAA identified operating rules as an important part of a flying club’s organization. Today standard operating procedures (SOPs) are still an important aspect of a successful club. From something as simple as to when to top off the aircraft or what to do in case of a maintenance problem away from the home airport, set procedures can make an unfortunate situation easier to handle. SOPs come in many forms, and a club will do well to tailor a document to address its specific operating environment.

An SOP is an important document for a club, large or small, in providing guidance for unexpected events and pilot proficiency standards. The document may be termed operating rules or procedures, and can assist the club in many ways. Creating and adhering to set standards may reduce insurance, maintenance costs, aircraft down time, etc. The club atmosphere should not change, but flight operations should improve by adhering to procedures that fit your specific club.

Many general aviation pilots are not used to using an SOP, but it is a common document in corporate and airline flying. These types of flying have good accident records and part of this is because of the standards that are followed. These standards allow pilots that have never flown together to operate safely and efficiently.

A great example of this was during my airline flying days. As a check airman, I flew with many new-hires directly out of the simulator. This was sometimes interesting in itself, but add an emergency and things could get very interesting. On this specific day, we had a flap failure. While not a big problem, landing speeds increased 40 knots up to a touchdown of around 170 knots. The new-hire first officer I was flying with handled it beautifully because of standardized procedures and training. The fire equipment on the runway left quickly—always a good sign.

Club members may not be professional pilots but by following a set of standards should decrease the risk inherent in aviation operations, and show an insurance company the club is committed to safety.

Standard Operating procedures may include:

  • Proficiency standards that pilots are required to meet in order to act as PIC.
  • Annual flight reviews rather than bi-annually as required by the FARs.
  • Set guidelines for hours required per quarter.
  • Restrictions on certain types of operations such as unimproved airports, night operations, etc.

To administer a new program, club membership will need to make the decision on whether to have a dedicated safety officer or safety committee. This will allow a dedicated group of individuals to make the decisions on what is important in their particular club environment with the consent of club membership. There are many way to gauge support for an SOP, but a good way to start would be at a regularly scheduled membership meeting, or performing an email survey. This will allow the newly minted safety officer or committee to tailor the document to meet the needs of the membership.

AOPA does offer a sample flight rules template that is a good place to start the discussion on what will work best for your club. Implementing this type of program does take some time and dedication but the rewards will be worth it.

To get the AOPA flight rules template, click here.