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Training Tip: Beyond 'Clear prop!'Training Tip: Beyond 'Clear prop!'

Here’s a not-unusual sight at a general aviation airport: An airplane taxis up to the terminal, a door pops open, and an occupant hops out of the aircraft. In minutes the aircraft is airborne again.

Pilots must remember that prop safety goes beyond initial engine start. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Who was the passenger? Who was the pilot? What kind of mixed message does this scene send to certain observers?

Perhaps both the pilot and exiting passenger are experienced aviators who can be counted on to navigate any ramp-side hazards safely.

It’s also possible that the pilot is a relative newcomer who has seen such scenes play out before, and assumes it is a customary way to discharge a passenger.

Let’s further suppose that, having provided a nonpilot friend with a first pleasant ride in a single-engine aircraft, the novice pilot taxis across the ramp so that the pilot’s side of the airplane is closest to the terminal, requiring the passenger to exit on the far side, walk around the aircraft, and then head across the busy ramp toward the terminal’s airside door. Then, to the pilot’s dismay, the passenger sprints around the front of the airplane, passing too close for comfort to the idling propeller, and makes a dash for the warmth of the fixed-base operator.

“Next time,” the pilot resolves, “I’ll take better care of my passenger.”

Most pilots dutifully call out, “Clear prop,” or a similar warning before engine start, a ritual learned on Day One of flight training. At other moments, many abandon that deeply ingrained sense of propeller protectiveness, often in the name of convenience.

Accidents have occurred when a pilot attempted to “prop start” an aircraft when the battery was depleted—sometimes with a nonpilot passenger boarded and delegated to hold the brakes. In other cases, attempted prop starts with the throttle inadvertently set to high power have caused an aircraft to overpower the individual starting it—occasionally with disastrous consequences.

As for the common sight of passengers boarding or disembarking with the engine running—that’s mostly, some pilots insist, to avoid the time and procedural inconvenience of restarting.

The private pilot certification standard for preflight procedures includes a propeller-safety task for which the applicant must demonstrate ability to identify, assess, and mitigate risks. Disembarking passengers safely is a postflight requirement.

So suppose at the end of your checkride and before you shut down the engine, the designated pilot examiner pops open the door and starts to exit the aircraft.

What will you do?

Share your thoughts in the AOPA Hangar.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Student, Accident, Aeronautical Decision Making
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