Reflecting on a recent rash of accidents involving our GA craft got me thinking again on how best to prevent more. Checklists are a basic staple of aviation, but for aircraft owners or folks who rent the same aircraft time after time, checklists tend to get ignored. Processes become routine and we become so familiar with them that we don't even need to refer to the checklists. There are several reasons the air transport realm has a tremendous safety record and requiring checklist compliance is one of the biggest. Why not apply this logic to GA flights?
Using a checklist during preflight helps catch things that can land you a trip to the FSDO, or even worse, if not caught. Is your aircraft in annual? Do you have your license with you? When was the last time your encoder was calibrated? Do you remember where your registration is? Are you sure you only flew 1.5 since the last full fueling? How sure are you? Sure enough to take a trip that may prove you wrong? Did you seriously leave the pitot cover on? Yours truly did this a few years back… How does that alternator belt really look?
How well do you know your emergency gear procedures for you folks in retractables? What are the indications of a successful deployment of manual gear? With the stresses of a failed extension taking your attention away from aviating, you don't want to misinterpret panel or other indications. Do you know what to do in the event of an engine out situation? The more complex the plane, the more complex the checklists. Smoke in the cockpit? Become intimately familiar with breaker and switch locations. These are just some of the checklists that should be memorized with and committed to muscle memory. As you walk through the checklist, your hands intuitively know where to go.
The recent engine failure on a United flight out of Denver shows that the pilots were following checklists. ATC recordings reflect several instances where the pilot told ATC to wait as they had checklists to run through. The pilot even delayed landing sooner so he could run through the checklists. We don’t always know what exactly is wrong with our plane and the checklists help ensure we either recover effectively or safely land. It may be that ATC will have to wait for your brain and body to complete an emergency checklist before you respond to a request, and that's perfectly acceptable.
If your POH can’t be stored in the ready vicinity of your hands, make copies of these checklists and put them next to your knee or on your kneeboard. Color code the emergency pages. Actually use the checklists on every flight. As an added benefit, your passengers will feel more comfortable seeing you use them, too. Please don't become a statistic. Fly safe!