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As captain of the plane, the pilot bears the ultimate responsibility for everyone’s safety–both passengers and staff alike. One key component to ensuring everyone’s safety is practicing proper flight preparation. Considering how aircrafts are highly complex machines, understanding how it works and how to keep it in order is an important part of pilot training.

However, due to the complexity of a plane’s instruments and controls, pilots have to check several things first before they can even taxi the aircraft on the runway. Fortunately, all pilots are required to have a handy-dandy checklist nearby to help them stay on top of these points.

What is a Pre-Flight Checklist?

A pre-flight checklist is exactly as it sounds. It is a list of tasks and items that a pilot has to accomplish and check first before the plane can take off. After all, it is easier to address a problem on the ground rather than six kilometers up in the air. Encountering technical issues mid-flight is not only risky, but also potentially catastrophic for everyone on the plane. Thus, the pilot and the flight crew work very hard to ensure that every part of the plane is in efficient working order before it goes on the runway.

The history of pre-flight checklists can be traced to a fatal incident in 1935. It happened on one of the first test flights of the B-17. The account goes that the flight crew forgot to release the flight control gust locks, which led the plane to crash just after takeoff. Boeing, the manufacturer of the planes, realized that the machines were simply too complicated to operate from memory alone. Hence, the company started to require pre-flight checklists, and the practice soon spread throughout the aviation industry.

What Comprises a Pre-Flight Checklist?

Before a passenger even boards the plane, the pilot and the flight crew work hand-in-hand to prepare the aircraft for the flight. Here is a quick rundown of what the pilot goes through to ascertain that the plane is in the right condition for the journey.

Pre-Flight Briefing

In this stage of flight preparations, the flight crew goes over the entire flight plan and makes adjustments as needed. The pilot goes to the airport a few hours before a flight and conducts a briefing with the crew. They make sure that the paperwork is in order and administrative procedures are successfully followed.

In this stage, the crew discusses several things, including:

  • Calculating the correct amount of fuel for the trip
  • Pre-flight analysis (which includes the speed and altitude of the aircraft)
  • Weather predictions
  • Backup plans for different emergency and non-emergency situations

It is also the perfect opportunity to develop crew synergy and get everyone on the same page. In this manner, the crew all have the same mental flight plan and are prepared for any situation that may arise.

Pre-Flight Inspection and Setup

The tasks the pilot(s) has to accomplish in this step can be divided into three different stages:

  • Before starting the engine
  • Starting the engine
  • Before takeoff

This phase is divided as such because novice pilots may easily see the checklist as a series of disconnected tasks. By framing it in this manner, pilots can get a sense of logic and continuity in ticking the tasks off as they go through the list.

The list of tasks that pilots have to do for inspection can vary greatly from one plane to another. To give readers a general idea of what happens, here is a quick rundown of the pilot’s pre-flight inspection list.

1. Daily Inspections (DI)

The DI refers to the physical, in-depth inspection of the aircraft. It is often conducted at the start of the day. The pilot walks around the aircraft and lifts the cover panels to check for leaks, broken parts, structural cracks, and other mechanism concerns.

2. Turnaround Check

The turnaround check works similarly like the daily inspection, but it is often less extensive because the aircraft may be scheduled for another flight. In this step, the pilot is looking for potential problems that came from the aircraft’s last trip. Possible causes of concern include lower tire pressure, loose cowls, and chafing wires.

3. Aircraft and Avionics Setup

In this stage, the pilot(s) go over the systems and controls of the plane. Considering the sheer number of items that they have to check, many airline companies conveniently provide a checklist for the pilots to use. Pre-flight checklists were originally simple in design, but as the aviation industry continued to developed, the list of things that had to be examined became longer.

Some of the things the pilot(s) need to set up in this stage include:

  • Flight management system
  • Performance
  • Radios
  • Electrical system
  • Hydraulic system
  • Fuel system

4. Safety Systems Check

After configuring all the systems, the pilot(s) conducts test runs to ensure that all systems are working properly. If any system is not functioning as it should, the aircraft may be rendered out of commission until the issue is sorted out properly.

Flight Preparation and Checklists Go Hand in Hand

Indeed, navigating a heavyweight machine thousands of meters up in the sky is tricky. It may encounter turbulence, weather changes, and other disturbances while up in the air. Hence, the entire crew, especially the pilots, needs to ensure that the aircraft is in tip-top shape to reach its destination. And pilots would not be able to execute that efficiently without their pre-flight checklists.