Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
In many parts of Australia, the winter months see a reduction in the frequency of recreational flights. Poor weather and reduced light combine to limit optimum flying opportunities. This extended downtime can sometimes lead to complacency in pilots who get out of the habit of proper maintenance and underestimate the time required for thorough preparation.
Reduced preparation time means that we may see a disproportionate number of accidents occurring. Each year, both the spring and autumn periods carry more than their fair share of accidents and these tend to be more severe in terms of property damage and loss of life. Many accidents can be avoided.
Taking extra time for pilot training and getting aircraft in top condition could be the difference between a perfect flying season or one spent grounded and awaiting repairs, or worse!
Accordingly, here are some helpful tips to keep you and your aircraft safe:
* Assess your health – How have your stress levels been recently?
Have you had pressing work and family commitments or any recent illness? Have your pilots been healthy and do you all have regular checkups? Have you been overwhelmed by the global financial crisis and should be hiding under a doona rather than gallivanting across the skies? These things can affect your general health and wellbeing.
Consider seeking advice from your General Practitioner prior to any flying season. A quick check up can be reassuring, even if your official medical for licence renewal is not due.
* Consider refresher courses – Your experience may have been under-utilised throughout the recent hikes in AvGas and grounding your plane to save cash during the recession. Consider a quick refresher course with a qualified instructor or experienced pilot. A review of recently completed proficiency manuals, your Pilot Operating Handbook or the relevant Standard Operating Procedures is a good place to start.
* Familiarise yourself with the aircraft – Even a short break from flying can make you forget things about your aircraft. Think back to the last time you flew. Was there anything that needed fixing? How long was your pre-flight preparation? Consider increasing your pre-flight preparation time for the first few outings of the autumn season.
* Plan a short hop – This is as much for you as it is the aircraft.
There are a lot of checks to run through and it will take a little time for those old habits (and maybe a few new ones) to re-establish themselves. Take the time to concentrate on what’s occurring with you and the aircraft in the first few trips.
* Conduct thorough cleaning, inside and out – Even if your aircraft is kept in a hangar, birds, insects and other wildlife may have taken the chance to seek shelter in your aircraft. Take the time to clean any rubbish from the inside of your aircraft and check the location and currency of all flying charts.
* Give the engine a thorough check – Consider having a maintenance crew check your engine after a considerable lay-off. Oil and fuel often contain trace contaminants and if left stagnant they can settle into hoses and filters. Change the fluids and filters if in doubt and remember to regularly check your hoses, brakes and tyre pressure. All of these issues could disrupt normal performance.
* Warm up the aircraft – It is a good idea to take a short flight in normal conditions to begin. However, the flight should be long enough to test all of the equipment in normal weather conditions before heading back to the hangar. Upon return, re-check the engine and all of the important connections.
Remember that making mistakes is not the problem. It’s how frequently they occur and how quickly we can counter them. These preparation tips are only the beginning but should get you in good shape. Preventative and educational actions to minimise the frequency and severity of loss are the best way to keep aviation safe and keep regulation to a minimum. Improved incident rates and risk mitigation may even challenge insurers to find new ways to factor in positive reward and recognition for the benefit of owners and operators. Who knows, flying might even become less expensive…