Nick Heard

Accident Analysis

With Nick Heard

Accident Analysis

Do’s and don’ts for pilots

There are plenty of things to think about before, during and after flying your aircraft. Check out Nick’s list

Over the last year I’ve covered a number of General Aviation incidents and accidents and offered analysis and advice to pilots on how to handle such issues when confronted with them in the air.

Below is a list comprising advice that I have offered, in a selection of Do’s and Don’ts which pilots may wish to think about.

First of all:

DON’T fly if you don’t feel right: That might mean some physical ailment such as a cold or a bad back, or it might mean that you have just too many distractions in your life to pay full attention to your flying. Mental health is just as important and physical health. Like the sea, aviation is unforgiving to those who ignore or forget the dangers, and the laws of physics are always waiting to trap the unwary.

Before you fly:

DO plan carefully: Even a short trip in a familiar area should be prepared with attention paid to weather, Notams, and airspace. If you are flying in new territory pay particular attention to controlled airspace (CAS). The CAA recommend the so-called ‘Take 2’ strategy with CAS, in which you should plan to remain two miles horizontally and 200ft vertically from CAS. In my view, the vertical limit is not enough, and I would recommend a clearance of 500ft when possible. Check the weight and balance of your aircraft, together with climb performance, from the Pilot’s Operating Handbook.

DON’T plan to fly in unsuitable weather: Devise your own weather limits that you are happy to fly in. Depending on experience that might suggest a cloud-base of 2,000ft and 5km visibility, but you may drop those limits with more experience. Have a wind and crosswind limit as well.

DO control your passengers: Passengers come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. Keep them safe by careful management when taking them to and from the aircraft, and reassure them while in the air. Don’t allow them to touch the controls and make sure you have a sick bag accessible!

On take-off:

DO nominate a decision point: Before you take-off, think of a suitable point on the take-off roll, at which point you will reject the take-off if things aren’t right, such as poor acceleration. This point might be a runway intersection or taxiway entrance, or it might be a convenient tree next to the runway! Stop early if you are not happy with the take-off. 

Once in the air:

DO monitor and balance your fuel: Fuel awareness is fundamental once in the air. Fuel gauges are unreliable so don’t push yourself into an unpleasant corner. If applicable, change tanks to maintain fuel balance sensibly.

DON’T fly into cloud: If you have no instrument qualifications do not fly into cloud. Don’t ever think that a few hours on MS Flight Sim is any substitute for flying in IMC. Keep your eyes out and turn away from cloud, or descend or climb before you get into cloud.

Don’t let the magenta line on your SkyDemon route drag you into cloud. If ATC direct you toward cloud, tell them that you are unable to accept the heading – and what you can accept. Stay away from cloud and land early if you have to. I cannot be any clearer!

D&D control room
You can call Distress and Diversion (D&D) on 121.5 and get help from them, especially if you aren’t using an ATC unit

DO get help early if you are lost: If you get lost while airborne get help early, and certainly if you are near to CAS – don’t wait to blunder into Heathrow’s Zone! If you are working an ATC frequency already, get help from them. If you aren’t using an ATC unit, call Distress and Diversion (D&D) on 121.5 and get help from them. They will find you very quickly and assist you with the rest of your flight.

DO take your time if you have a problem: Many errors in handling problems in the air – in both private and professional flying – are caused by rushing into poor solutions without proper consideration. If you lose your only engine, then time is clearly limited. But if your engine is running happily and you have fuel in the tanks, you probably have time to think and analyse. Fly the aircraft at all costs. Stay VMC (again..). Use your checklist to help if it’s a technical problem. Divert to another airfield with a longer runway if that makes life easier. Make a Pan or Mayday call to ATC to get assistance. Do not rush!

Arriving at your destination:

DO get onto frequency early and listen out: If you are visiting a new or busy airfield, get onto the frequency early and just listen to what’s going on. You will probably pick up lots of information and you can then plan your arrival and circuit join. Call in good time and make sure you are aware of the location of other aircraft before joining the circuit. If in doubt, stay away until things get quieter. 

Final approach and landing:

DO nominate a landing decision point: If you are landing on a short runway, work out a decision point by which, if you have not touched down, you go-around. As with take-off, this might be a convenient intersection or adjacent tree. If it’s an unfamiliar strip, ask the owner for advice before you set off.

DO monitor speed and flightpath on approach: Monitor your speed on final approach – every three-four seconds as a minimum. Take positive action in both speed and flightpath if either is incorrect. If the approach is going wrong – too fast, too slow, not on centreline due to crosswind, too steep – go-around early. Don’t analyse what went wrong until you have climbed back to circuit height – fly the go-around first.

And afterwards…

DO think about how the flight went: With luck, most flights will go well. But if something wasn’t right, have a chat with an instructor or more experienced pilot to see what you might have done instead. If you feel that others may learn from your mistakes, submit a confidential report via the CHIRP system. 



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