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Preaching the Preflight Gospel: Preparing Your Passengers for That Next Flight

by Mike Brown
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

With a myriad of complex issues to be considered, most pilots begin each flight long before stepping into the cockpit. While tasks such as weather analysis, chart selection, and aircraft preflight are all important to safety, general aviation (GA) pilots often neglect another equally important responsibility. The preflight passenger briefing, in many cases a mere afterthought, should include more than simple anecdotal advice concerning airsickness or flight control interference. Maximizing passenger comfort and safety involves a careful review of the airplane, the environment in which it is to be operated, and most importantly, the needs of each passenger.

According to the Regs...

The infrequent nature of aviation accidents, coupled with a lack of regulatory guidance, are the two primary reasons many GA pilots neglect giving a comprehensive preflight passenger briefing. The only exception to the later may be found within Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 91.107, which states in part'

''No pilot may take off a U.S.- registered civil aircraft unless the pilot in command of that aircraft ensures that each person on board is briefed on how to fasten and unfasten that person's safety belt and, if installed, shoulder harness.'

In addition, 14 CFR sections 91.517 and 91.519, which are applicable only to operators of large and turbine-powered multi-engine airplanes, mirror many of the regulations governing Part 121 and 135 air carriers. Collectively, they provide an introductory source of information relevant to preflight passenger briefings. Still, much within these regulations is extraneous to GA operations. In short, 14 CFR part 91 lacks the specificity necessary to address many of the situations likely to be encountered during normal flight operations.

One Possible Solution...

To counter this difficulty, pilots may wish to formulate a checklist or safety briefing card, similar to the example shown, to aid in completing their briefing more efficiently. For such a checklist to be of value, it must be thorough, easy to follow, and dynamic to the degree necessary to address the demands imposed by a typical flight.

Passenger Briefing Checklist Ground:

  • Ramp Area (remain with pilot)
  • Aircraft Familiarization
    • Aircraft entry
    • Operation of aircraft doors and windows
    • Location and use of onboard fire extinguishers
    • Use of onboard oxygen systems (if applicable)
    • Use of seat belts and shoulder harnesses
    • Seat position and adjustment
    • Location of survival gear (first aid kit, life vests, etc.)
    • Location and use of heating and cooling vents

In Flight:

1.     Access and use of flight controls

2.      Crash positions (front and rear passengers)

    A. Front- slide seat aft as practicable

    B. Rear- move to rear facing seats as time and CG permit (as applicable). Brace for impact

    C. Secure loose items

Post Flight:

1.      Aircraft Egress (emergency)

    A. Order and method of exit

    B. Potential exit points (doors, windows, cargo hatches)

    C. If and when to remain with aircraft 2. Aircraft Egress (normal)

To maximize the effectiveness of such a checklist, each item should be reviewed with the passengers prior to the flight, when time constraints and workload are at a minimum. This is also when passengers will feel the highest degree of comfort in voicing potential questions or concerns.

In the Final Analysis...

According to the most recent NTSB statistics, a GA accident occurs only once every 14,896 flying hours. This may be of little comfort to passengers, especially those with limited flying experience. Many pilots, not wishing to compound these fears, often avoid a comprehensive briefing in the belief that omitting the possibility of an accident will quell any misgivings. However, passengers realize that each flight brings with it an element of risk, however slight. Ignoring this possibility during a preflight briefing will only intensify their anxieties. On the other hand, a well-prepared passenger briefing will instill confidence in the pilot's professionalism and ensure that everyone enjoys the highest degree of comfort and safety before, during, and after each flight.

Mike Brown is the manager of Flight Standards' General Aviation and Commercial Division's Certification Branch.