Know Before You Go
By Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Editor
Thankfully for those who love aviation, air shows pop up all over the country and at various times of the year. Even better, most of these events accommodate (even encourage) fly-in visitors. Though few aviation gatherings could rival the size and complexity of events like EAA AirVenture or Sun ‘n Fun, any gathering of airplanes at a specific time and place ups the ante for safety risk management. You really, really, really need to bring your “A” game to every aspect of a fly-in.
Here are just a few safety-related things to keep in mind.
Know the NOTAM(s)!
Most fly-in events, especially those featuring air shows, have an associated NOTAM. It’s essential reading, and it will likely require multiple readings until you know it cold, which is the level of knowledge you should have well before you even leave for the airport. Yes, you can have it with you in the airplane. But searching for critical information while maneuvering in congested airspace is not a good idea.
Know the Territory
There are multiple methods of virtually visiting an airport before you launch in real life. Perhaps the best way is to use flight simulation software to “fly” the entire trip at least once — but more is better. At a minimum, sit down with a platform like Google Earth or the mapping software in electronic flight bag (EFB) apps. Use these tools to virtually traverse the intended route and mentally practice procedures outlined in the NOTAM. Zoom in on reporting points, noting features that will help you quickly identify those points when it counts. Check out the destination airport, noting runway and taxiway configurations, as well as any changes made from the NOTAM. Note where you might expect to park. Whether on an EFB app or an old-fashioned sheet of paper, highlight or write down critical information (e.g., frequencies) from the NOTAM.
Know the Knobology
If you are renting or borrowing an aircraft for this event, do whatever it takes to ensure that you are familiar and comfortable with its equipment. The busy airspace around a fly-in event or airshow is no place to be fumbling with knobs and buttons. Plan to spend some extra time before you launch ensuring that you have everything on the panel (e.g., navigation, communication) configured properly.
Know the Numbers
Be sure you know how to fly — and land! — the airplane at the speed(s) specified in the NOTAM. If it’s been a while since you practiced high-performance takeoffs and landings, it’s a good idea to hire an instructor to sharpen those skills before you go.
Know the Passengers
At least half the fun of fly-in events is time with fellow enthusiasts, starting with the people you bring with you. Passengers who are pilots can be very helpful but be sure to clarify roles and responsibilities before you depart. You don’t need surprises! You also need to clarify expectations for non-pilot passengers. It’s a good idea to have everyone’s eyes peeled for traffic, especially as you approach the fly-in site, but brief passengers on “sterile cockpit” procedures for non-essential conversation during critical phases of flight.
Know When to Go
However much fun it is to participate in a fly-in event, it can also be exhausting — especially for the pilot. Don’t let anyone talk you into staying beyond your physical/mental limits or your capabilities. If you are too tired to fly home, find a place to stay overnight and depart when you’re fresh. You might even plan that overnight stay right from the start.
For more air show safety tips, see the article “Getting There Safely is Just Part of the Fun” in this issue.
Susan K. Parson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.