By Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Editor
Every day, my daddy told me the same thing. ‘Once a task is just begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labour great or small, do it well or not at all.’ — Quincy Jones
Let’s say that you successfully completed each phase of your flight without making any of the mistakes we’ve explored in this issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. Let’s also say that you didn’t have any other bobbles or wobbles in your aeronautical proficiency. In fact, let’s go so far as to say that you just finished something pretty close to the mythical Perfect Flight, or at least what you might describe to others as The. Best. Flight. Ever.
Great! But before you pop the champagne cork or the topper for any other celebratory beverage, remember that being safely down is not the same as being completely done. If you simply hopped out of the aircraft, fastened the tiedown ropes, and skipped off to the terminal, you have just marred the picture of your Perfect Flight.
Inspect the Airplane
We all know about — and hopefully know all about — the importance of conducting a thorough preflight inspection. We’ve even turned the adjective “preflight” into both a noun (e.g., I’ve finished the preflight) and a verb (e.g., Did you preflight the aircraft?) The scarcity of similar syntax for postflight inspection gives evidence of the reality that both the concept and the practice of a similarly thorough postflight inspection are not nearly as well ingrained in aviation practice.
But they should be. Whether you rent from the FBO, participate in a flying club, or are the sole proprietor of your plane, good airmanship — which includes the concept of good aviation citizenship — means that you strive to leave the aircraft in a condition as good as, if not better than, the way you found it. You probably don’t have to think too many years back to recall the frustration of finding that the last pilot didn’t bother to refuel. Or perhaps you have discovered a mechanical malfunction that had to have been visible to the previous pilot, had that person only bothered to make a postflight inspection.
To be the kind of pilot you would like to follow in the airplane’s next flight, consider the flight to be incomplete until you have conducted a thorough postflight inspection and, of course, documented and acted on any problems. While checking things like oil level immediately after you shut down is not a great (or especially useful) idea, you can still use the preflight checklist as a guide to your postflight look at the airplane. Better yet, you could use it to develop a specific postflight inspection checklist tailored to your own aircraft.
Remember that being safely down is not the same as being completely done.
Inspect Your Performance
Before too much time elapses, you should also include a personal performance review in your “down but not done” activities. If the ambient temperature is not too hot or too cold, consider taking five or ten minutes to sit quietly in the airplane and mentally replay every aspect of the flight you just finished. Make a few notes on your kneeboard while it’s all fresh in your mind, and then set aside some time later on for a deeper dive into your “coulda/shoulda/woulda done [fill in the blank] better” self-critique.
Got passengers? Provided there is a clear and safe pathway from airplane to airport or FBO lobby, send them in ahead of you. In addition to giving you space to review and reflect on the flight, it will also enable a distraction-free postflight inspection.
As the opening quote advocates, “once a task is just begun, never leave it till it’s done.”
Susan K. Parson (email@example.com) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.