Aviation Safety Letter 1/2003

Is Your Checklist Older Than You?

by Kenneth Armstrong, Victoria, British Columbia

Are you flying an older aircraft with an archaic checklist or perhaps an amateur-built or ultralight with no checklist whatsoever? If you have invested tens of thousands of dollars and/or thousands of hours on your dream only to find you can't safely fly with an inadequate checklist, you are one of many.

Having just completed client training on a 1959 Piper Commanche, I noted the pilot operating handbook (POH) checklists were woefully inadequate - completely skipping safety related items! The checklists stenciled to the panel ignored items such as transponder use, security of occupants and internal loads, mixture control and carburetor heat.

In the case of custom-built aircraft, the great deal of individuality in equipment often results in inadequate preflight preparations when checklists that may have been provided prove inadequate. With ultralights or other recreational aircraft, checklists are uncommon. Checklists and their use are two safety-oriented tools that low time pilots can use to their advantage to ensure comfortable, "no surprises" flight. In fact, this is a discipline where a low time pilot can operate at the professional pilot level by simply reading and responding to the various items. Since few of us take the time to completely memorize these "flying inventories of action," it is mandatory to have one available to increase our flight safety. Most experienced pilots will be able to recall hair-raising episodes that were a result of not using, or skipping too quickly, through a checklist.

Liability considerations preclude my providing a generic checklist in this publication; however, a little effort will allow you to patch together a useful list to augment your safe and efficient flying.

If your aircraft is a simple, single engine plane, you can start by combining whatever checklist you currently have with additional items you wish to add by studying the POH for a more modern aircraft - they tend to have far more detail. Most pilots are comfortable with computers and can easily improve and update their personal checklist file and then print it out in a size that fits a plastic protective sleeve.

Sections of the checklist should include at least the following: pre-flight planning; walk-around inspection; pre-start checks; after start and avionics checks; pre-taxi checks; during taxi checks (brakes, instruments etc.), run up, pre-takeoff, post-takeoff, climbing checks; level off and enroute checks; upper air work checks; pre-descent checks; pre-landing checks; post-landing checks; and, after shut down checks. It's wise to conduct a quick after flight inspection of the aircraft to ensure the anti-collision lights aren't flashing and the fluid levels are topped up and nothing unusual is hanging off the aircraft. This can avoid a maintenance delay when you next plan to fly the aircraft.

These checklist sections can be augmented with others and are suggested as a basic minimum. While dire emergency checks should be memorized as they require immediate action, other less critical emergencies can be printed out. Other checklists for specialty work are also prudent. For instance, a helicopter about to undertake fire suppression operations with a bucket or a fixed wing aircraft about to carry out parachute drops.

Remember, a really detailed, complete checklist will not only make you safer, it will also make you look good. Using the checklist allows you to avoid those little miscues such as landing with the gear up or having to cancel a mission when you learn the master switch was left "on" overnight and the battery is dead.

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