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Do No Harm

Safety SPOTLIGHT: Volunteer Pilots

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As rewarding as volunteer flying is, pilots face risks in the form of self-induced pressure to complete a flight they have signed up for—believing it’s imperative to do so for their passengers’ sake. But these are not medical emergency or air ambulance flights, and volunteer pilots need to prioritize safety above reaching the planned destination.

Physicians take an oath to never do harm to anyone. As a volunteer pilot, you have the same responsibility toward the passengers you carry on volunteer flights. You need to become an expert at managing risk so the passengers under your care remain safe.

Take Stock of Yourself

A first step to reducing pressure-induced risks as a volunteer pilot is to evaluate your well-being carefully. Are you under stress, on medications, feeling ill, or tired? Have you recently experienced a personal problem or a major life-changing event that has affected you emotionally? Be objective in your self-assessment and don’t let outside pressure decide for you if you’re fit to fly or should cancel. Should you choose the latter, volunteer pilot organizations will support your flight cancellation—they back your decision to be safe.

Once you decide you’re in shape to fly, it’s time to assess practical flight planning elements for a successful outcome:

  • Do you meet the organization’s suggested currency requirements?
  • Does weather or terrain cause any concerns?
  • Are there concerns about runway and fuel requirements?
  • Will you be able to complete the flight safely within the organization’s recommended duty time?

These items should meet at least the minimum recommended specifications required by your volunteer group. Of course, your skills and aircraft should be up to the task as well!

…these are not medical emergency or air ambulance flights, and volunteer pilots need to prioritize safety above reaching the planned destination.

Plan Ahead To Reduce Stress

There are additional ways to avoid encountering stressful decisions or situations. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Weather—Allow a flexible window for the trip for weather delays
  • Contingency plan—Arrange ahead of time for a backup pilot and/or airplane in case you or the airplane are not up to the task of flying (inform the organization’s flight coordinator of this as soon as possible as they will typically make the arrangements)
  • Delay trip—Postpone the flight if delays push the flight into conditions you are not comfortable with
  • Plan carefully—Be conservative with time and fuel calculations
  • New equipment—Become thoroughly familiar with new navigation/radio equipment ahead of time
  • Hone skills—Practice special flight skills regularly to stay proficient (for instance, flying into a field with short/unimproved runways or a mountain airport notorious for gusty crosswinds)
  • Get to know the route—Practice the flight on a simulator to become familiar with the route and procedures