Pre-planning flights essential to safety

Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Is it spring yet? I feel sure that most pilots are champing at the bit to begin flying. The only place that experiences good flying weather in winter is the southwestern portion of the United States. But then again the summer months there can be a bit warm for comfort, especially in a small airplane.

I would love to go on a long cross-country flight to a place that I have not visited before. I believe that I am not alone in that desire. I would plan my trip very carefully so that I could relax and enjoy the trip. Pre-planning is essential to a safe non-eventful trip especially in light of current events and new restrictions that have been placed on general aviation.

Awhile ago I wrote an article on the value of preplanning a flight. I mentioned that when we were student pilots we were very careful to use all the information available to us when we planned a flight. We drew a line on the chart and marked checkpoints. We marked position reporting points along the way and filed a flight plan. We checked weather several times during the pre-planning phase, the planning phase and just before our flight. Impending poor weather put an abrupt halt to some trips. We were cautious as students, sometimes to a fault, but we were safe, and that is what counts.

One item that is frequently missed when we plan a flight is the information located in Notices to Airmen (NOTAM's). NASA's publication "Callback" is developed using the Aviation Reporting System information and February's issue of Callback had several items concerning NOTAM's. Since Sept. 11 several special interest NOTAMs have come into effect that are of concern to general aviation pilots.

• Monitor Guard frequency of 121.5 and understand intercept procedures.

• Know rules against circling or loitering over nuclear sites, power plants, dams, refineries, military sites, industrial complexes and similar facilities.

• Know where Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are located.

• Several other new rules of interest.

All these and more can be found in NOTAMs, more good information to put into your flight planning agenda.

While we are discussing pre-planning a trip, let's not forget Flight Service and the value of a good weather briefing. Getting good weather information the day before a flight and then again on the day of the flight, before completing your flight planning, will assist you in making a go no go decision. Once you have decided on your routing and have filed a flight plan follow the route you chose as closely as possible. Making position reports to the nearest appropriate facility along your route of flight will assist you in being found should you have to make an unexpected off field landing.

I realize that there are a lot of folks out there that read my column that are not pilots, but living in Southeast Alaska we are all airplane passengers at one time or another. Passengers, especially those people who travel by small aircraft, should have a basic understanding of how weather affects a flight. Ask your pilot what the weather is expected to be for the duration of your flight. Once airborne, if you feel uncomfortable with inflight weather, you have the right to ask the pilot to turn around. Don't pressure the pilot to continue into deteriorating weather because you have "to get home".

I have given you a few hints to help make flying safer. I hope we can all get busy flying soon and enjoying some good flying weather.

Patricia Mattison is the safety program manager of Juneau Flight Standards.

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