One question pilots regularly ask is, “What can I do to be a safer pilot?” Every pilot’s situation is different, but I believe there are five things that apply universally across all of general aviation. So, if you want to be a safer pilot, I strongly recommend the following. The first one costs money, but thankfully the remaining four suggestions are free.
Equip your aircraft with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out and In. This is a hot-button issue because the cost associated with installing this equipment is high. When I talk to pilots who have and don't have ADS-B equipment installed, I get two completely different viewpoints. Pilots who haven’t installed ADS-B say, “It’s too expensive and not required for three more years. I wouldn’t pay my taxes three years in advance so why should I equip now?” Pilots who have installed the equipment say, “Wow, how did I get by without this for so long. It’s like I’ve been flying in the dark for years and with ADS-B the lights have been turned on. Being able to see all the traffic and weather around me [subscription free] is simply amazing.” The equipage question is a pay-now-or-pay-later issue. My take: Who cares if the FAA says we should equip; Big Brother telling us what to do isn’t a very compelling reason. Safety is compelling for pilots and their passengers. ADS-B gives us some valuable safety tools that we should take advantage of now. Equipping allows pilots to worry a lot less about midair collisions and unforecasted weather.
Think like a pro and fly like a pro. You’re probably saying wait a minute! How on earth can I do that without years of training and thousands of hours? Simple. By filling out and flying with a personal minimums contract. Tough decisions shouldn’t be made in the air. If you can, make them on the ground before you ever go flying. Use the personal minimums contract as your one-page standard operating procedures (SOP) just like the pros do. Far too often, I see good pilots overcome by the inertia of a situation and blinded by a variety of factors that make good decision making tough to do in the heat of battle. No pilot should have to pay the price for being pressured into a bad decision, but it happens. So, to avoid this, use the personal minimums contract to inform decisions and stick to the limits you’ve established. Do this and you’ll be much more inclined to do the right thing when push comes to shove.
Plan, brief, fly, evaluate, and learn. Each flight is an opportunity to get better, but far too often pilots don’t take advantage of this opportunity. We typically do a good job of planning and flying, but the briefing and post-flight evaluation parts of the cycle often get forgotten. For the briefing portion, take the time to jot down the phases of flight and the mission objectives. During the flight when time permits, jot down any mistakes or learning points. After the flight when a quiet moment presents itself, take a look at your notes and see if you accomplished your objectives and if there’s anything you’d like to improve for your next flight. This process doesn’t take much time, and it’s amazing how much better we get when we continually evaluate our performance and strive to improve.
Share your experiences with others. We all make mistakes. Pilots who make a mistake while flying almost always recognize the mistake, take corrective action, and move on smartly. But mistakes only become lessons learned when shared. Tell the stories about the things you’ve messed up, learned, or discovered while flying. If you share, then others will benefit and can learn without having to experience the situation themselves.
Join a type club and participate in discussions and training. If you’re already an active member of a type club, good for you! For those who aren’t, consider this statistic: Pilots who participate in type club activities are up to eight times safer than a pilot who flies the same aircraft, with similar flight time and experience, but doesn’t participate in one. If there was one thing I could do to be eight times safer, I’d make it a priority!
Safety starts with a desire to learn and get better. Hopefully doing some or all of these things will become your New Year’s flying resolutions! Happy New Year!