Flying Tip: Make Your Own Checklist

Checkmate Checklist

With AOPA Summit 2012 approaching, I find myself reflecting on my time at the convention last year in Hartford. One of the highlights last year was aerobatic champion and Red Bull Air Racer Mike Goulian’s seminar on building a safety culture. It was an informative and entertaining talk, but the thing that stuck with me the most was his advice that pilots make their own checklists.

Goulian pointed out that checklists have become too cumbersome. In an effort to cover all bases, the average checklist for a light single has taken on a level of complexity that rivals an airliner! They’re filled with extraneous items like “Seat Belts — Fastened” or “Shoulder Belt — Secured.”

It’s good to be thorough, but we run into a human factors problem when the checklist is too long: pilots skip items or they get complacent and stop using them altogether. That’s a bad thing.

Checkmate Checklist

A very long checklist – do I really need to be reminded to adjust the heater?

So why not look through your procedures and work on pruning down your checklist? In the Piper Warrior, I’ve managed to cut a 3-page nightmarish checklist down to a single tri-fold that includes all normal procedures on the front, and a cheat sheet + emergency checklists on the back!

I know what you’re thinking. “Sounds great, but what if I get ramp checked?” I asked a Fed on my last ramp check and he told me that there is actually no FAA requirement for light planes to have a checklist at all! The only time checklists are mandated are in multi-engine airplanes which must have emergency procedures, and anytime a company (charter or airline) requires a checklist per their OPSPECS.

A word of caution. Before omitting anything from your personal checklist, think it over carefully and ask yourself: is this item important? It might also be a good idea to work on this with other pilots and flight instructors familiar with the make & model. Don’t skip any “killer items!”


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

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