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Training and Safety Tip: Details matter

Don’t rush the preflight inspection

One of the first things you learn as a student pilot is how to preflight the airplane. Your flight instructor reviews each item on the checklist as, step by step, you learn the procedure that starts in the cockpit and finishes after a thorough review of the exterior.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

In the end, everything from fuel quantity to tire struts is inspected and, ideally, the aircraft is deemed safe to fly. After all the planning for a flight—including checking the weather, planning the route, reviewing airport diagrams and radio frequencies, and ensuring the pilot’s own readiness to fly—the preflight is the final check of the aircraft before getting airborne. It should not be rushed.

This time with your instructor can seem to be lengthy, as you learn about the aircraft, what to look for during the preflight, and why each item is important. As you become more familiar and comfortable with the process, you may be tempted to forgo the checklist and simply follow the flow taught by your instructor. That may lead to complacency, and some critical preflight items could inadvertently be skipped. Just checking the fuel and doing a cursory look around is not sufficient. The value of a thorough preflight is to determine that the aircraft is in safe flying condition, and to identify anything that may be unsafe and ground the aircraft until a mechanic has repaired it.

It’s also beneficial to add items to your preflight routine, depending on the type, make and model of your aircraft or the season. In the spring, birds may cozy up around the engine. Opening the cowling and looking around—not just quickly checking the oil—is a good habit. There may be signs of a bird or insect nest—such as straw, mud, or small twigs—that indicate a closer inspection is warranted. For renters, checking the squawks should be part of each preflight. By doing so you’ll learn about concerns that other pilots have noted, and what corrective action was taken.

After completing the preflight and looking at each aircraft component in detail, it’s time to do a ”big picture” walkaround inspection. By stepping back and doing one final review, you may identify items that were not evident during preflight or that you intended to get to later. And it may save you the embarrassment of trying to taxi with the chocks still in place!

ASI Staff

Kathleen Vasconcelos

Kathleen Vasconcelos is an instrument-rated flight instructor and a commercial pilot with multiengine and instrument ratings. She lives in New Hampshire.
Topics: Flight Planning, Student, Training and Safety
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