Perhaps the most critical part of any general aviation flight is the preflight inspection of the aircraft. For most pilots, the preflight inspection follows a checklist along with a routine flow around the aircraft. Most pilots and student pilots perform what would be considered a sufficient inspection, following their checklist and routine items.
Surely 100% of pilots would be able to find discrepancies if they were present right?
Well………not exactly. Sit down, strap yourself in and get ready to read some interesting real-life statistics!
Every year at the Sun N Fun airshow the FAA partners with a local flight school to host the Project Preflight event. The purpose of the event is to test the preflight efficiency of pilots and student pilots of all ages, hours and experience. A flight school volunteers one of their airplanes for the event.
Participants are invited to preflight the aircraft like they would before any other flight – checking the fuel, oil, tire pressure and anything with blue tape is unnecessary. The catch is, the aircraft has several intentional discrepancies, some are major squawks! This year we hosted the event and gathered the data from 144 total participants.
Here are the results………
Water Bottle Lodged Behind Rudder Pedals – Out of 144 participants only 30% found this major discrepancy.
Cotter Pin Missing In Right Wheel – Only 28% found this one!
Elevator Nut Missing – 39% found the nut to missing from the right side of the elevator.
Rag Behind The Alternator – Easy to spot but only 63% of participants found the rag!
Cotter Pin In Control Lock – Only 42% found a small cotter pin in place of the control lock, hard to miss but deadly if left in.
Interesting right?! The statistics are concerning to say the least, but what a great insight into a previously unknown sector of general aviation that can be used to educate pilots and future pilots.
So how can we improve these statistics?
Yes, of course we can say “pilots need to be more thorough in their inspections” or “we need to apply more focus and attention to detail during a preflight” but what are some other realistic strategies we can implement to actually achieve that?! Here’s one – maybe it’s extreme and definitely hypothetical but it’s worth pondering.
“Try to preflight the airplane as if you had just built it part by part, or just finished working on it yourself”.
Again, hypothetical but let’s break it down. We need pilots to perform thorough inspections, how can you put yourself in that “attentive” frame of mind? If you’ve ever rotated the tires on your vehicle yourself, isn’t it likely that you’ll double check and triple check the tightness of the lug nuts before you call it a job done? The theory is that you’ll be taking more responsibility for the state of the aircraft rather than assuming the mechanic or previous pilot left the aircraft in an airworthy condition. This doesn’t mean you should become an aircraft mechanic or add an hour to your preflight, the goal is to find a way to improve our attention and focus when preflighting an airplane.
Project Preflight was certainly educational and we had an absolute blast hosting the event. On behalf of SunState Aviation we would like to thank all of the 144 participants for stopping by and giving us your time, without you this educational piece and the safety of future pilots would not be a reality!