Safety Management Systems Not Just for Large Operators
When we think of safety management systems (SMS), it’s easy to think of big operations such as major airlines and large international airports.
General aviation pilots and smaller aviation service providers need their own safety management systems as well, albeit not as complex as those maintained by larger operators.
Below I’ve outlined a few safety habits I’ve learned as a general aviation pilot.
1. Preflight Best Practices
Have a system, a pattern in how you perform preflight checks; don’t mix it up or do it haphazardly.
Deviating from an established pattern is a good way to forget something. Some have said that if you get interrupted, you should start over. It is so easy to overlook an item whenever you become distracted or interrupted.
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2. Doing It One More Time - Great Habit
My instructor taught me to walk around the airplane and look it over one more time before I climbed into it. You may have left a tow bar or noticed something that you didn’t see during the preflight. This is a good habit to get into.
3. Fueling Best Safety Practices
In my little Cessna 172, I have to climb a ladder with the heavy fuel hose to fuel my plane.
Once, I decided to go ahead and put the hose away before I replaced the fuel cap. You’ve probably guessed already that I got distracted and took off without replacing the fuel cap!
After flying for a few minutes, I still smelled fuel, although I hadn’t spilled any on my hands. I had a pretty good idea of what I had done.
Thankfully, I was just up for some practice near my home airport, and I was able to land shortly after that. Upon inspection, my suspicions were confirmed: I had forgotten the fuel cap!
As a result of this oversight, one of my ritualistic safety practices is that I don’t come down the ladder, heavy hose or not until that fuel cap is replaced!
This fueling episode was only an embarrassing situation at that time, but it could have been a bad one had I been on a cross-country adventure!
4. Flight Planning Best Safety Practice
When it’s time to do your flight planning, write it out the same way each time. This ritual is similar to the Preflight Best Practice outlined above.
When you’re flying the airplane, you need to know exactly where to look for your information and not be hunting through your iPad or shuffling through papers. Flight planning logs are helpful for this routine task because they have a box for each piece of information, and that box does not move around the page!
- If you’re using a notebook, always write down your information in the same order.
- Write frequencies down in the sequence you will need them.
- Have airport diagrams and approach plates lined up in the order you will be using them.
It’s easy to think that you know where to find what you need while you’re sitting at your desk planning, but it’s not so easy when you’re trying to
- fly the airplane,
- talk to ATC, and
- find that frequency that you wrote down somewhere!
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Be Cautious of Unwavering Best Practices
There could be a concern that ritualistic habits can also cause us to overlook important items just because we’re going through our routine. Consequently, we must ever be wary of being lulled into just running through our list. However, it’s much better to have a routine than to do things haphazardly and chance missing an important piece of the flight safety puzzle!
Safety policies are useful to maintain an organization on a set path. When was the last time your safety policy has been reviewed? Here are some sample templates that are useful for new safety programs or for reviewing existing safety policies.
Policies and procedures should be easily available to all employees.
Last updated May 2023.