• Flight planning is the most important phase of any flight activity which sets the stage for the entire flight
    • Its purpose is to determine requirements, identify hazards, and determine airworthiness of an aircraft before fight
  • It all starts with determining fitness for flight
  • While often the most tedious, it is where all planning and "chair flying" is conducted in order to reduce/prevent possible errors and problems in flight
  • In accordance with Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR), Part 91.7, it is the responsibility of the Pilot-In-Command (PIC) to determine if an aircraft is airworthy

Determining Fitness for Flight:

  • Determining overall fitness for flight, it is an important self-evaluation that every pilot (and their passengers) must conduct prior to any flight operation
  • Aircraft accident statistics show that pilots should be conducting preflight checklists on themselves as well as their aircraft for pilot impairment contributes to many more accidents than failures of aircraft systems
  • Checklists such as the "IM SAFE" and "PAVE" checklists provide a self check on our fitness to fly on any given day
  • Finally, pilots must consider the effects of perceived pressures which lead to hazardous attitudes

Initial Preflight Actions:

  • Determine if takeoff weather is adquate
    • Rule of Thumb: For VFR, ceilings at or above 500 feet of Traffic Pattern Altitude; for IFR: at or above appropriate approach minimums
  • If operating under IFR, review possible departure procedures as applicable
  • Determine if takeoff performance is adequate
  • Pilots in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include:
    • For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC;
    • For any flight, runway lengths at airports of intended use, and the following takeoff and landing distance information:
      • For civil aircraft for which an approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual containing takeoff and landing distance data is required, the takeoff and landing distance data contained therein; and
      • For civil aircraft other than those specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, other reliable information appropriate to the aircraft, relating to aircraft performance under expected values of airport elevation and runway slope, aircraft gross weight, and wind and temperature
      • This information is not only important for ensuring the flight can be conducted safely, but also in determining if an intersection takeoff is acceptable
  • Pilots are responsible to comply with 14 CFR 91.137 (Temporary flight restrictions in the vicinity of disaster/hazard areas), 91.138 (Temporary flight restrictions in national disaster areas in the State of Hawaii), 91.141 (Flight restrictions in the proximity of the Presidential and other parties), and 91.143 (Flight limitation in the proximity of space flight operations) when conducting flight in an area where a temporary flight restrictions area is in effect, and should check appropriate NOTAMs during flight planning
  • Though not legally required, additional considerations apply, especially when renting:
    • Verify the aircraft Hobbs/Tach times match the recorded times (most flight schools charge by Hobbs time)
    • Verify past discrepancies
    • Verify all inspections are up-to-date and will not expire during the trip

Preflight Briefings:

  • Pilots must brief the passengers of seatbelt regulations and their use as prescribed in FAR 91.107
  • Standardize your brief into a template that flows, and reinforce that template to conduct your preflight planning
  • Items to brief include: [source: BoldMethod]
    • Normal Brief:
      • Identify the Pilot in Command (PIC)
      • The takeoff runway, its' length, and reported winds
      • Type of takeoff, and runway length required
      • Abort point
      • Rotate and climb speeds
      • Pattern altitude
    • Emergency Brief

      • Engine failure or fire on the runway
      • Engine failure or fire in the climb
      • Engine failure or fire at or above pattern altitude
      • Who will fly in an emergency?
        • Consider what each altitude cleared means for your options
        • Consider the weather, to include ceilings
    • Emergency Equipment Preflight Briefing:

  • Prior to every flight, pilots should gather all information vital to the nature of the flight, assess whether the flight would be safe, and then file a flight plan
    • Pilots can receive a regulatory compliant briefing without contacting Flight Service
    • Pilots are encouraged to use automated resources and review Advisory Circular AC 91-92, Pilot's Guide to a Preflight Briefing, for more information
    • Pilots who prefer to contact Flight Service are encouraged to conduct a self-brief prior to calling
    • Conducting a self-brief before contacting Flight Service provides familiarity of meteorological and aeronautical conditions applicable to the route of flight and promotes a better understanding of weather information
    • Pilots may access Flight Service through or by calling 1-800-WX-BRIEF. Flight planning applications are also available for conducting a self-briefing and filing flight plans
      • Alaska only: Pilots filing flight plans via "fast file" who desire to have their briefing recorded, should include a statement at the end of the recording as to the source of their weather briefing
  • The information required by the FAA to process flight plans is obtained from FAA Form 7233-4, International Flight Plan. Only DOD users, and civilians who file stereo route flight plans, may use FAA Form 7233-1, Flight Plan
    • FAA and DOD Flight Plan Forms are equivalent
    • Where the FAA specifies Form 7233-1, Flight Plan and FAA Form 7233-4, International Flight Plan, the DOD may substitute their Form DD 175, Military Flight Plan and Form DD-1801, DOD International Flight Plan as necessary
    • NAS automation systems process and convert data in the same manner, although for computer acceptance, input fields may be adjusted to follow FAA format
  • Supplemental Weather Service Locations (SWSLs) do not provide weather briefings
  • FSSs are required to advise of pertinent NOTAMs if a standard briefing is requested, but if they are overlooked, do not hesitate to remind the specialist that you have not received NOTAM information
    • Additionally, FSS briefers do not provide FDC NOTAM information for special instrument approach procedures unless specifically asked
    • Pilots authorized by the FAA to use special instrument approach procedures must specifically request FDC NOTAM information for these procedures
    • Pilots who receive the information electronically will receive NOTAMs for special IAPs automatically
  • Domestic Notices and International Notices are not provided during a briefing unless specifically requested by the pilot since the FSS specialist has no way of knowing whether the pilot has already checked the Federal NOTAM System (FNS) NOTAM Search website external links prior to calling
    • Airway NOTAMs, procedural NOTAMs, and NOTAMs that are general in nature and not tied to a specific airport/facility (for example, flight advisories and restrictions, open duration special security instructions, and special flight rules areas) are briefed solely by pilot request
    • Remember to ask for these notices if you have not already reviewed this information, and to request all pertinent NOTAMs specific to your flight
  • Pilots are urged to use only the latest issue of aeronautical charts in planning and conducting flight operations
    • Aeronautical charts are revised and reissued on a regular scheduled basis to ensure that depicted data are current and reliable
    • In the conterminous U.S., Sectional Charts are updated every 6 months, IFR En Route Charts every 56 days, and amendments to civil IFR Approach Charts are accomplished on a 56-day cycle with a change notice volume issued on the 28-day mid-cycle
    • Charts that have been superseded by those of a more recent date may contain obsolete or incomplete flight information
  • When requesting a preflight briefing, identify yourself as a pilot and provide the following:

    1. Type of flight planned; e.g., VFR or IFR
    2. Aircraft's number or pilot's name
    3. Aircraft type
    4. Departure Airport
    5. Route of flight
    6. Destination
    7. Flight altitude(s)
    8. ETD and ETE
  • Prior to conducting a briefing, briefers are required to have the background information listed above so that they may tailor the briefing to the needs of the proposed flight
    • The objective is to communicate a "picture" of meteorological and aeronautical information necessary for the conduct of a safe and efficient flight
    • Briefers use all available weather and aeronautical information to summarize data applicable to the proposed flight
    • Pilots who have briefed themselves before calling Flight Service should advise the briefer what information has been obtained from other sources
    • AIM, Paragraph 7-1-5 , Preflight Briefings, contains those items of a weather briefing that should be expected or requested
  • FAA by 14 CFR Part 93, Subpart K, has designated High Density Traffic Airports (HDTAs) and has prescribed air traffic rules and requirements for operating aircraft (excluding helicopter operations) to and from these airport
    • Additional information can be found in the Special Notices of the Chart Supplement U.S.
  • In addition to the filing of a flight plan, if the flight will traverse or land in one or more foreign countries, it is particularly important that pilots leave a complete itinerary with someone directly concerned and keep that person advised of the flight's progress
    • If serious doubt arises as to the safety of the flight, that person should first contact the FSS
  • Pilots operating under provisions of 14 CFR Part 135 on a domestic flight and not having an FAA assigned 3-letter designator, are urged to prefix the normal registration (N) number with the letter "T" on flight plan filing; e.g., TN1234B
  • Pilots may also utilize the acronym: SAFETY
    • Seat belts
    • Air/ventilation
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Emergency procedure
    • Traffic
    • Your questions
  • Read mroe about the FAA's take on the SAFETY acronym: General Aviation Passenger SAFETY Briefing


  • Airplane Flying Handbook, Aircraft Documents and AFM/POH
    Airplane Flying Handbook, Aircraft Documents and AFM/POH
  • Airplane Flying Handbook, Aircraft Documents and AFM/POH
    Airplane Flying Handbook, Preflight Inspection
  • Must be performed in accordance with the airplane manufacturer checklist
  • The aircraft must be two things before it is ready to fly:
    • Legally airworthy, and;
    • In condition for safe flight
  • Determining Legal Airworthiness:
    • In order to be legally ready, the aircraft must comply with FAR 91.9/91.409 under the popular acronym, "ARROW"
    • Logbooks:
      • Should be inspected prior to operation
      • Required to be maintained but not on-board as the FAA/NTSB would not want those documents destroyed in a mishap
      • Contain:
        • Maintenance records for the airframe, engine, and propeller
        • Annual inspections within the preceding 12-calendar months (as per FAR 91.409)
        • 100-hour inspections, as required (as per FAR 91.409)
        • Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) with no more than 1 hour cumulative use or half battery life (as per FAR 91.207)
        • Airworthiness Directives completed in accordance with their intervals (as per FAR 91.409)
    • Airplane Flying Handbook, Aircraft Documents and AFM/POH
      Airplane Flying Handbook, Aircraft Documents and AFM/POH
    • Airplane Flying Handbook, Aircraft Documents and AFM/POH
      Airplane Flying Handbook, Preflight Inspection

Determining Condition for Safe Flight:

  • Approaching the aircraft:

    [Figure 2]
    • Make note of anything unusual
    • Landing gear should be level
    • No cracks on the airframe
    • No leaking fluids (fuel, oil, etc.)
    • Foreign Object Debris (FOD) not present
    • Begin taking note of any remove before flight flags
    • Etc.
  • Inside the aircraft:

    • Check the door for ease of use, which could be a sign of misalignment/structural damage
    • Make sure the inside of the aircraft is not wet, especially if it has rained recently
    • Ensure the windshield is in good condition (no crazing) and clean
    • Ensure the seats and belts are in good working condition and secure
    • Check for 3 critical areas which will be listed on your checklist:
      1. Battery and Ignition Switches - OFF
      2. Control Column Locks - REMOVED
      3. Landing Gear Control - DOWN AND LOCKED (as applicable)
    • Engine controls should be manipulated to ensure full range of check for binding or stiffness
    • Instruments should be checked for fogging on the panel windows
    • Overall the aircraft must be equipped for VFR or IFR, depending on the purpose of flight
    • Check for required documents
    • Turn on the battery switch and:
      • Lower the flaps
      • Note fuel gauge quantities
      • Check interior/exterior lights
      • Turn on pitot heat and carefully check the pitot tube for warmth
        • Take care to not leave the heat on for more than a minute or two
      • Check the Pitot tube to ensure there are no blockages
    • When complete with the above, don't forget to turn off the master switch
    • Remove any control locks
    • Set the parking brake
    • Ensure that no loose articles, such as rags, waste, tools, etc., are present that might foul the controls
      • Articles shall be properly stowed to prevent their coming adrift and being lost overboard or damaging the aircraft during maneuvers
      • Care shall be taken to ensure proper load-balance distribution of all weights
  • Left Empennage:

    • First and foremost, make sure you're firm but light when touching the aircraft so as not to cause damage to the structure
    • Look for wrinkles in the skin or structure anomalies
    • Observe for loose or missing rivets
    • Black oxide will be apparently with loose or broken fasteners
    • Small dents may be present but excessive or large dents are unacceptable
    • If a crack is present you may find a stop drilled in (a hole drilled at the end of the crack) which is acceptable corrective action
    • Stains are a sign of fluid leakage
    • Depending on the aircraft you may have a cargo area check inside and door secure
    • Check the static ports to ensure there are no blockages
    • Check any antennas for condition
  • Tail:

    • Same as the empennage with a few extras
    • Verify gust locks are removed
    • Check control surface attachments and movement
    • Check trim tab movement
    • Check the lights for obvious damage
    • Check any antennas for condition
  • Right Empennage:

    • Same as left Empennage
  • Right Wing:

    • Inspect for the same things previously mentioned
    • Verify gust locks are removed
    • Ailerons should move in opposing directions and you should see the yoke move
    • Lights and stall warnings should be inspected and clear of obstructions
    • Pitot Tubes should be checked for obstructions and bugs
    • Landing gear should not show excessive wear and be locked (if retractable, to prevent collapse when moved)
    • Fuel quantity should be as expected relative to last flight/refueling/cockpit displays (accuracy permitting)
  • Wing Root/Fuel Sump:

    • The cabin should be inspected from the other side for over all condition
    • Tires should be inspected for proper inflation, FOD, damage, showing chords
    • Brakes should be checked for corrosion, loose connections, fluid leakage and cracks
    • The fuel should be sumped and checked
      • The reading you saw on the gauges should be appropriate to what you see in the tanks
      • Grade/color should be appropriate and sediment or water should not be present
      • Incorrect fuel can result in engine failures, if you're lucky on the ground, if not, during takeoff and climb
      • Water will sink to the bottom
      • Take samples until all sediment or water that may be found is removed
    • Sumped fuel should be disposed of in accordance with local procedure, and never dumped on the ramp
  • Nose:

    [Figure 3]
    • Check engine oil levels and if you're flying the same aircraft often, for sudden drops in fuel usage
    • The cowling should be secure, all screws in place
      • Ensure foregin objects (such as birds nests) are not lodged inside, especially if the aircraft has not flown, moreso if it is parked outside, and even more if there are no cowl plugs installed
      • Be sure to close and lock it after you're done
    • The propeller and spinner should be checked for damage
      • Treat the propeller as though the engine magnetos are always live, so as not to be caught off-guard if any propeller movement results in ignition
    • The drive belts should be checked for proper tension and signs of wear
    • Leaking fluids should be noted as well as FOD
    • All visible wires and lines should be checked fro security and condition
    • The shock strut should be properly compressed
      • Apply force to verify suspension
    • Ensure the engine compartment is clear of FOD such as paper or birds nests
    • Check the fuel sump
  • Left Wing:

    • Generally the same as other side
Airplane Flying Handbook, Check the Propeller and Inside the Cowling
Airplane Flying Handbook, Check the Propeller and Inside the Cowling

Winter Considerations:

  • During preflight in cold or winter weather conditions, check for ice on any moving or aerodynamic part, including landing gear

Night Preflight:

  • Night flying requires that pilots be aware of, and operate within, their abilities and limitations
    • This means more attention to the details of preflight preparation and planning
  • Preparation for a night flight should include a thorough review of the available weather reports and forecasts with particular attention given to temperature/dew point spread
    • A narrow temperature/dew point spread may indicate the possibility of fog or clouds
  • Emphasis should also be placed on wind direction and speed, since its effect on the airplane cannot be as easily detected at night as during the day
  • On night cross-country flights, appropriate aeronautical charts should be selected, including the appropriate adjacent charts
    • Course lines should be drawn in black to be more distinguishable
    • Prominently lighted checkpoints along the prepared course should be noted
    • Rotating beacons at airports, lighted obstructions, lights of cities or towns, and lights from major highway traffic all provide excellent visual checkpoints
  • The use of radio navigation aids and communication facilities add significantly to the safety and efficiency of night flying
  • All personal equipment should be checked prior to flight to ensure proper functioning
  • All airplane lights should be turned ON momentarily and checked for operation
    • Emphasis on momentarily when turning on lights such as taxi/landing light and the strobe so as not to blind other pilots
  • Position lights can be checked for loose connections by tapping the light fixture
    • If the lights blink while being tapped, further investigation to determine the cause should be made prior to flight
  • The parking ramp should be examined prior to entering the airplane
  • During the day, it is quite easy to see stepladders, chuckholes, wheel chocks, and other obstructions, but at night it is more difficult

Inoperative Equipment:

  • The FAA has developed a process for determining airworthiness when inoperative equipment is discovered
  • First, determine if there is a minimum equipment list
  • If not, determine if the item is part of the Type Certificate Data Sheet
  • If not, determine if the item is on the Kinds of Equipment list
  • If not, determine if the item is required per FAR 91.205
  • if the item is not required on any of the above, the instrument must be removed or deactivated, placarded inoperative, and logged in the maintenance manuals per FAR 91.213 and in accordance with FAR 43.9

Reclining Seats:

  • Personnel embarked in aircraft equipped with seats that have a reclining back shall be instructed to lock the seat in the erect position for all takeoffs, landings, and emergencies
  • Reclining seats that will not lock in the erect position shall not be used for passenger transport

Best Practices:

Preflight Case Studies:


  • Treate every preflight like it is your first with that aircraft
    • It's much better to discover an issue on the ground than face it in the air
  • Ensure any panel opened is securely latched to prevent in flight deployment, and in the case of a cargo compartment, loosing cargo or having it bind on flight controls
  • Consider checking the NTSB, by airport, for each new destination
  • Remember, there are two parts to checking if the flight controls are free and correct:
    • Free: nothing prevents their movement (bags, kneeboards, your legs)
    • Correct: when you turn the flight controls, they indicate the correct direction of movement
  • Especially at unfamiliar airports, review, and have available the airport diagram to maintain situational awareness
  • If required to obtain airport reservations at airports designated by the FAA given Special Traffic Management Programs, see AIM 4-1-21, Airport Reservation Operations and Special Traffic Management Programs
  • Preflights are important, but preflight following maintenance is especially important
    • Note anything out of the ordinary, especially as it relates to the maintenace performed
  • Dress for prefligt for comfort and to mitigate distractions - don't get too cold, hot, or wet before you're about to conduct a flight
  • Pilots that fail to familiarize themselves with all information concerning the flight, and violate airspace or procedures may find themselves subject to FAA Compliance Action, a certificate suspension or revocation, fines, or even criminal penalties
  • Consider the use of a flight risk assessment tool, or FRAT, before flight
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