Prior to each flight, pilots must conduct a thorough preflight check. Part of this preflight check includes examining your personal minimums as a pilot and recognizing the potential risks associated with your flight. The PAVE checklist is a great way to evaluate your personal minimums and hazards you could experience when flying. Each letter stands for a different risk when flying; Personal/Pilot, Aircraft, EnVironment, and External Pressures. These are the factors a pilot must take into account when making their decision to fly. Let’s break down each part of the PAVE checklist so we know the questions we should be asking ourselves before we take flight:
Just as an aircraft must be deemed safe and airworthy prior to each flight, all pilots must take the necessary steps to determine if they are fit to fly. The Personal portion can be evaluated by using another acronym called IMSAFE. The IMSAFE checklist is a personal health assessment used to ensure the pilot is healthy before each flight. The letters stand for; Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Emotions. By reviewing these elements of the checklist, the pilot can conclude whether he/she is personally fit to fly.
Illness - We all get sick from time to time. Having a cold while flying will not only be uncomfortable, but can be distracting and potentially dangerous. For example, if you have a sinus infection, as you climb in altitude, the pressure differential between the ambient air and the air in your nasal cavities will vary greatly resulting in undesired pain, and impacting your ability to operate a safe flight.
Medication - Some forms of medication come with side effects that may impact flight safety. Medications that cause: fatigue, unusual weakness, nausea, dizziness, headaches and other symptoms that cause impairment can be dangerous while flying. You can not fly if you are on a medication that could potentially impact your performance or ability to safely operate the aircraft (14 CFR §91.17(3)).
Stress - There are two types of stress; acute and chronic. Acute stress refers to something that causes stress for a short amount of time. This could be caused by an upcoming exam, being stuck in a traffic jam, or a scheduled checkride. Chronic stress is a type of stress that exists for a prolonged period of time due to an extreme emotional pressure or traumatic incident. Acute stress generally isn’t cause for major concern when flying (but should still be taken into account). Chronic stress raises larger concerns, and can severely impact your ability to conduct a safe flight. When deciding if you should fly, be sure to identify the type of stress you are experiencing, the cause, your coping ability and if it will impact your flight.
Alcohol - We all know that drinking and driving never mix. The same applies to alcohol and flying. 14 CFR §91.17 states that you can not fly an aircraft if you have had any drink within 8 hours, have an alcohol concentration of 0.04% or more and/or you have any lingering effects. There is a saying “8 hours from bottle to throttle” that will help you to remember the time requirements. However, many pilots increase their personal minimums between bottle to throttle to ensure a safe flight.
Fatigue - Fatigue is a human factor that is the catalyst for most aviation accidents. A pilot may experience fatigue after sleep loss, exercise, physical work, or prolonged stress. When experiencing fatigue, performance will decrease rapidly and can lead to: loss of concentration, impaired coordination, and decreased ability to communicate. A pilot should not fly if they are experiencing any form of fatigue and should instead recover by eating a proper diet and obtaining a sufficient amount of rest.
Emotions - Emotion is a rather hard topic for a go/no-go decision. In some cases, flying can be a good outlet to help remove negative feelings. When experiencing severe negative emotions that could interfere with your flight, such as anger, depression, or impatience, flying should be avoided. Analyzing your emotions can be difficult, but is an important part of a pilot’s preflight personal checklist to make sure they are healthy and comfortable enough to fly.
Questions to ask yourself:
Have you completed the IMSAFE checklist?
Are you sick or feeling under the weather?
Are you on any medication that causes impairment and could interfere with the flight?
Are you under any stress or experiencing anxiety that could negatively impact your ability to fly?
Have you consumed alcohol in the past 8 hours? Are you hungover?
Are you well rested? Are you too tired to fly?
Are you feeling angry or upset? Are you emotionally competent?
After completing the personal evaluation, it’s important to recognize the aircraft limitations and decide if the plane is right for the flight. The aircraft must be deemed airworthy, have the proper equipment, meet the fuel and performance requirements for the flight, and the pilot must be comfortable and experienced enough to safely operate the aircraft.
When an airplane is considered “airworthy”, it means that the airplane is in accordance with 14 CFR parts 21, 43, 91, and is in a safe condition for flight. The pilot must perform a pre-flight check to ensure the physical condition of the aircraft is suitable for flight, and make sure all necessary documents are in the plane. The following documents are required to be on board for every aircraft (use the AROW acronym): Airworthiness Certificate, Aircraft Registration Certificate, Operating Limitations (POH), and the Weight and Balance Sheet for the Aircraft. The Airworthiness Certificate must be displayed in the plane so it is visible and legible to all passengers and crew (14 CFR §91.203). For a Day VFR Flight, use the A TOMATO FLAMES checklist to ensure the aircraft has all required equipment and everything is operational. For a Night VFR Flight, use the FLAPS checklist in addition to A TOMATO FLAMES.
Something every pilot should be familiar with is the aircraft limitations specific to their plane.
Knowing and understanding how the aircraft will perform in certain conditions is key when planning for each flight. Things like how much fuel the airplane holds, how much fuel it burns per hour, calculating the weight and balance, concluding it has the appropriate equipment on board (14 CFR §91.205) and can satisfy the flight requirements are the factors that need to be taken into account. All aircraft limitations can be found in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH).
*The POHs and other aircraft documents for our fleet be found here.
Lastly, the pilot must make sure that they are comfortable flying the aircraft, have all appropriate endorsements, documents and up-to-date charts, have enough experience and are current to conduct a safe flight. The FAA states (14 CFR §61.57): If the pilot is going to take passengers on the flight with him/her, the pilot in command must have had 3 takeoffs and 3 landings (to a full stop in tailwheel aircraft) within the preceding 90 days. If the pilot is going to take passengers up at night, he/she must have had 3 takeoffs and 3 landings to a full stop at night.
Questions to ask yourself:
Is this the right aircraft for this flight?
Are you familiar with the aircraft and is it airworthy?
Are you comfortable flying this aircraft?
What are the aircraft limitations?
The outside environment is a major factor that could impact your flight. Things like weather, airport and airspace conditions, and the geography of the land are things a pilot needs to take into consideration before each flight. The best way to remember the factors associated with EnVironment is by using the NWKRAFT checklist: NOTAMs, Weather, Known ATC Delays, Runway Lengths, Alternates, Fuel Requirements, Takeoff and Landing Distances (14 CFR §91.103). Pilots should always check the NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) and PIREPs (Pilot Reports) along the flight route to make sure there are no active alerts, delays, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) or hazards that could impact the safety of the flight. When checking the weather, be sure to look at the current METARs, TAFs, AIRMETs, and SIGMETs. These will give you the current and forecasted weather conditions and help you make that go/no go decision. You can find this information from multiple sources such as: Aviation Weather Center, Foreflight, NOAA, and weather briefer.
When creating your flight plan, be sure to choose a route that avoids any obstacles and have alternates planned. Familiarize yourself with the destination so you know the runway lengths, remarks, frequencies and services offered prior to your flight. Verify the runways you plan to land on are long enough for your aircraft’s takeoff and landing distances. Be sure to calculate the fuel requirements for the trip so you know exactly how much fuel you will use, and how much you should have on reserve. For any flight in VFR conditions during the day, it is required that there is enough fuel to fly to the first intended landing point and to fly after that for at least 30 minutes (14 CFR §91.151). At night, you must have enough fuel to fly after your first point of intended landing for 45 minutes.
Questions to ask yourself:
What are the current and forecasted weather conditions?
Did you check the PIREPs/NOTAMs?
Do you have the experience and ability to fly in these conditions?
Did you check the runway lengths and calculate your takeoff/landing distances?
What are the fuel requirements for this flight?
External Pressures can be hard to evaluate.
External pressures are factors outside of the normal planned flight that may cause pressure on the pilot to complete the flight. Examples include; needing to get to a business meeting, trying to impress a friend, desiring to obtain a personal goal, someone waiting at the destination airport. External pressures can push a pilot into making risky decisions. It is important to recognize these pressures and take appropriate actions to avoid putting yourself and your passengers in a potentially dangerous situation.
There are five hazardous attitudes that all pilots must avoid. Three of the five hazardous attitudes are associated with external pressures: “It won't happen to me” (Invulnerability), “Do something quickly” (Impulsivity) , “I can do it” (Macho). If you find yourself saying any of these phrases during your flight, take a step back and assess your situation to determine the best course of action. Do not pressure yourself into doing anything you are not comfortable with or something that is beyond your abilities as a pilot.
Questions to ask yourself:
Do you need to fly today? Should you fly today?
Are you feeling pressured to meet certain deadlines?
Do you have a plan B?