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By Paul Wiley

This article discusses the value of a good, thorough, and consistent pre-flight briefing for passengers.  It also provides a scenario for a pre-flight briefing and a sample checklist.  I encourage pilots to develop their own passenger briefing checklist tailored to their airplane.  The important thing to remember is to conduct the briefing every time you fly with passengers. 

Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) require that the pilot in command conduct a pre-flight briefing for passengers.  At a minimum, the Pilot in Command (PIC) is required to brief passengers on how to fasten and unfasten that person’s safety belt and, if installed, shoulder harness (see FAR 91.103).  Additionally, the PIC must notify each passenger that they are required to have their safety belt (and shoulder harness - if installed) fastened while the airplane is moving on the surface and during take-off and landing.  There are exceptions for passengers involved in sport parachuting and for seaplanes or float planes. 

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Regarding carrying children: a child who has not yet reached their second birthday may be held in the lap of an adult provided that the child being held does not occupy or use any restraining device.  A much safer alternative would be to secure the child in an approved “child restraint system,” aka child safety seat, typically used in automobiles.  Note that the child restraint system must be approved and properly installed.  See FAR 91.107 for more details, of which there are many. 

The PIC may allow passengers to unfasten their safety belt when cruising in flight. But I usually tell passengers that I require them to keep their safety belt (and shoulder harness) fastened for the entire duration of the flight.  If a passenger needs to unfasten their safety belt for some reason, I tell them to let me know and I’ll tell them if it is safe to do so. 

That is the minimum briefing requirement (unless supplemental oxygen will be required).  However, a much more detailed and complete pre-flight briefing is highly recommended.  Here is where you, as PIC, can impress your passengers with your professionalism.  The reasons for the briefing are mainly: 1) for the passengers and pilot’s safety and protection; 2) for psychological reasons such as putting the passengers more at ease by demonstrating consideration for their safety; and 3) demonstrating your knowledge and professionalism.  A sample pre-flight briefing checklist is included with this article.  Note that most modern airplane flight manuals include a checklist item (usually before starting engine) that says something like: “Passengers - Briefed”.

Let’s consider a short cross-country flight from Phoenix Deer Valley (DVT) to Sedona (SEZ) in a typical 4 place General Aviation (GA) airplane.  Following is a sample pre-flight briefing for passengers.  This scenario presumes: 1) these passengers have never flown in a GA airplane; 2) that we will be flying to Sedona for breakfast and then returning to Deer Valley.

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Pilot: “Good morning, it’s a beautiful day for flying.  I’ve checked the weather and completed all my calculations for take-off and landing distances, fuel requirements, Notices to Air Missions (NOTAM’s), filed the flight plan with the FAA and we are good to go.  Before we get started, and before I complete my pre-flight inspection of the airplane, I want to give you a safety briefing.  Please listen carefully and pay attention as this briefing is primarily for your safety.  Just like when you fly on a commercial airline and you get their safety briefing, I’m required by Federal Air Regulations to provide you with a briefing before we fly.” 

“You’ll see I’m using a checklist for this briefing to ensure that I don’t forget anything.  You’ll also see me use a checklist for all flight operations today including the preflight inspection of the airplane.”

“First of all, let me start with the most important item on my pre-flight briefing checklist:”

(Pilot proceeds to refer to the checklist below while explaining and demonstrating each item in sufficient detail to ensure passengers understand the importance of each item.)

 

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Pre-Flight Briefing Checklist

  • Propeller Safety - Stay away from the prop - Do Not Touch the prop! This is critically important because a propeller striking you can be fatal. 
  • Entering and exiting the airplane - Watch for “no step” areas and be aware of hot brakes. This is how you open and close the doors and windows. Do not slam the doors or windows.  Here are the air vents and how to use them.  If you need any help, please ask me and I will assist you.
  • Safety Equipment - Here is the fire extinguisher and how to use it. Also identify and explain the use of any other safety equipment, e.g., Survival kit, ballistic parachute, satellite phone, etc. 
  • Use of safety belts and shoulder harness - This is how you fasten and unfasten the safety belt and shoulder harness. Federal Aviation Regulations require me to notify you keep your safety belt and shoulder harness fastened during take-off, landing and when the airplane is moving on the ground. 
  • Be alert when walking on the ramp. Always yield the right of way to aircraft that are taxiing on the ramp.  Obey all signs and stay close to me so that I can make sure you stay safe.  If there are small children along always keep them within arm’s reach.
  • Sterile Cockpit - This is a concept whereby the passengers can help the pilot by not distracting him with questions or talking during critical flight operations like taxiing, take-off and departure and approach and landing. I will let you know when it is OK to talk over the intercom. 
  • Brief the passengers on the route of flight and approximate time in route. It’s a good practice to brief passengers on what to expect during flight and once we enter the airport traffic pattern.  For example: “Unlike DVT, Sedona is a non-towered airport.  So, we pilots will be communicating with each other over the radio to ensure we stay at a safe distance from each other.  Today the wind is from the north favoring landing on runway 03 at Sedona.  We will cross over the airport at mid-field and then turn left to start a descent to the runway for landing. The flight up to Sedona will take approximately 30 minutes.”  The pilot can always add other additional information such as route, cruising altitude, etc.
  • Turbulence - The weather looks good today (or we wouldn’t be flying) but in the event of any unforecast turbulence please make sure your seat belt is fastened low and tight across your lap. Think of turbulence as driving down a bumpy road - uncomfortable but safe.  If you feel queasy or think you will be air sick, there is a “sick sack” in the seat back pouch. 
  • Looking for other air traffic - Brief passengers on how and where to look for other traffic and how to alert the pilot with a tap on the shoulder.
  • Any questions? No?  Please relax and enjoy the flight!

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Note that AOPA’s Air Safety Institute also has a passenger briefing checklist and associated articles including a short video.  Their checklist has the acronym: SAFETY.  Check it out on AOPA’s website. 

In conclusion, there are several benefits to a good pre-flight passenger briefing including: 1) Safety for passengers and pilot; 2) Easing any anxiety the passengers may have before flight; 3) Demonstrating the pilot’s knowledge and professionalism to the passengers; and of course, 4) complying with the Federal Aviation Regulations.

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