Pilots, don’t rush the pre-flight inspection

Dale Nielsen


How good is your pre-flight inspection?

Better than these, I hope.The privately operated Piper PA28- 140 aircraft departed Runway 32 on a local VFR flight and turned westbound.pproximately two miles west, the flight crew reported smoke in the cockpit and returned to land without incident.The pilot later phoned and reported to tower staff that they had earlier cleaned a bird’s nest out of the aircraft and there seemed to be a few pieces that had fallen on the manifold and burned.The engine was run for approximately 20 minutes on the ground and found no further indication of a smell.

A Piper PA28-151 reported that a cowling was open on departure from Runway 24. The aircraft conducted a circuit and landed without incident.

An amateur built Glastar was on departure for a VFR local flight from Runway 09 when the engine cowling fell off the aircraft. The cowling landed on the runway and was retrieved by an airport authority vehicle. The aircraft landed safely.

A Champion 7ECA with 2 people on board departed with the tow bar attached to tail wheel. The aircraft returned and landed safely and the occupants removed the tow bar before resuming.

A private amateur built Glasair Super II departed from Runway 08 for circuits.Approximately 1 minute later, the pilot advised he was returning due to a fuel leak from the right wing tank. The aircraft landed safely on Runway 14. It was later reported that the right fuel cap was not secured properly and departed the aircraft. It was later recovered on or near the runway by another pilot and returned to the Glasair owner. The pilot reported that after refuelling, he had only checked the left fuel cap.

The pilot of the PA28-140 could have been more careful in removing the bird’s nest. At least he found it. Some pilots haven’t.

The PA28-151 and Glasair pilots did not ensure that their engine cowlings were securely attached. It was likely an expensive mistake for the Glasair pilot.

Every year a few aircraft get airborne with tow bars still attached. You would think that a tow bar would be too obvious to miss.

We should all know better than to assume the fuel caps were properly secured by someone else.

A large number of missed pre-flight inspection items are caused by hurrying.Many more are the result of complacency. We seldom find anything wrong so we don’t really look and we see what we want to see.

Distractions are another reason for missing pre-flight items. Distractions are the number one cause of forgetting things in any situation. It is very likely that the missed tow bar and missed fuel cap were the result of being distracted.

After any distraction during a preflight inspection, or any checklist procedure, we should go back at least three steps from where we thought we left off, or start the whole procedure over again.

Combine any of these – hurrying, complacency and distraction - and we might as well skip the pre-flight.

Many pilots abbreviate their preflight inspection after the aircraft has just been inspected by an AME assuming that everything must be OK. This is a mistake.

This is when you should perform the most careful pre-flight inspection.Between 6% and 25% of aircraft incidents and accidents are the direct result of maintenance errors. AME’s are people and people make mistakes.

We seldom perform a full pre-flight inspection between flight legs. This is actually the time when we might find loose cowl and inspection plate fasteners. They may have appeared tight when we first looked at them and then vibrated loose in flight.

This is also when we might find troublesome oil streaks on the cowl indicating something serious inside. The tires will also be in a different position and showing wear that was previously missed. It is better to find problems on the ground rather than in the air.

Between flights we should refuel the aircraft right after landing. Refuelling just before take-off and then performing a fuel drain check is not likely to pick up water in the fuel. It takes up to 45 minutes for water to settle in the tanks. If we refuel after landing and then go for pie and coffee, the pre-flight fuel drain check makes more sense.

Most of us keep our personal aircraft clean out of pride. It is also important for inspection purposes for us and the AME. It is difficult to determine if an oil streak is fresh or is spreading if the cowl is dirty and oil smeared.

Landing gear wells get dirty regularly.It is difficult to determine if something is amiss in that area if the area is caked with dirt and grease. It may also save you money on the next inspection if the AME doesn’t have to clean out the wheel wells. Some flying schools are a little careless about keeping engine cowls, landing gear legs and wheel wells clean.

Clean windscreens are also important.Bug spots tend to lull us into complacency and we miss the spot that suddenly gets very large.

I recommend post-flight inspections of aircraft as well. Things normally break or come loose when being used.Finding problems on a post flight inspection gives us time to fix them or get them fixed at our convenience. They may help us avoid the frustration of losing a trip that we had been looking forward to.

Fly safely.