Avoid becoming a statistic

When you read accident reports, do you ask yourself why the pilot made the decisions that led to the accident or mishap? You also may have noticed there are some common threads in aviation accidents.

So, how can you avoid becoming a statistic? Here are 10 tips:

Use your checklist. There are certain items (such as emergency procedures) that should be committed to memory, but for the rest, use a checklist. A checklist is there to make sure that all items are checked and in a logical order. That includes items on the preflight inspection. If you are interrupted when you are running a checklist, back up three items and resume.

Never trust your fuel gauges. The regulations require they be accurate ONLY when empty. Make sure that you make a visual inspection of the tanks before each flight and use the appropriate POH when making fuel burn calculations. It’s also a good idea to give yourself a little cushion on the calculations, such as rounding 7.8 gallons per hour up to 8. Be careful in airplanes that have a pilot-input fuel totalizer. Unless you visually confirm that a certain number of gallons have been put in the tanks, don’t put that figure into the computer.

In a retractable gear airplane, make at least three checks to determine the position of the gear before landing. Don’t rely exclusively on the lights or gear warning horn to let you know the position of the gear. Look out the window and double check the position of the gear handle. Many flight schools install faux landing gear switches on the instrument panel of fixed-gear airplanes to get students in the habit of checking gear position before landing. If you intend to someday fly retractable gear aircraft, you might consider adding a faux switch to your own airplane.

Don’t fly by committee. One of the most dangerous combinations is more than two pilots in an airplane because pilots tend to debate when a problem develops. Before the flight determine who will be the pilot flying and what the roles of the non-flying pilots will be.

Know the high traffic areas in your community. Know the locations of airport practice areas, VORs, VFR and IFR flyways. Check the Terminal and Sectional charts for details.

Don’t fall victim to “get home-itis.” If the weather is deteriorating be prepared both mentally and physically to turn around.

Do not rely on the autopilot or gee-whiz avionics to get you out of a bad situation. They are tools but, just like trying to use a hammer to swat a fly, can do more harm than good when used incorrectly.

Stay proficient. Factor retraining into your flying budget in excess of what is outlined in the FARs for currency.

Practice emergency procedures with a qualified instructor pilot on board at least every six months. Hopefully you will never have to use these skills.

Don’t be afraid not to fly. If there is a day when the weather is iffy, or you just don’t feel like it’s a good idea to go up, don’t. There will always be another day.


  1. Countersnark says

    Pat B is incorrect, and is the senion FAA inspector quoted.

    FAR (or, Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations) Part 23.1337(b)(1) says “Each fuel quantity indicator must be calibrated to read “zero” during level flight when the quantity of fuel remaining in the tank is equal to the unusable fuel supply determined under [Part]23.959(a).”


    Pat B, you need to get your act together and if you publish anything, you need to get it right.

  2. Pat B. says

    I absolutely dispute and refute your remark “Never trust your fuel gauges. The regulations require they be accurate ONLY when empty.”

    I’ve had this discussion with a senior FAA Inspector, and when I asked if there was credibility to the assertion that I have heard repeated over the years about gauges only needing to be accurate at empty, he asked “Does the aircraft have a Minimum Equipment List?” to which I answered “Yes!”
    He asked “Can you tell me the items on the MEL?” and, I read them off. One of the items is “An operating fuel system”. He posed the question ……. “Is it an operating fuel system if it only reads correctly when the tanks are empty?”, and after thinking about this for a moment I realised that the answer is No! It is not operating the way the manufacturer designed it if it operates only when the tanks are empty. Thus your article that perpetuates this myth “Never trust your fuel gauges. The regulations require they be accurate ONLY when empty” is totally wrong.
    You need to get your act together and if you publish anything, you need to get it right.

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