Planning (not “Plans”) – Essential to Safety!

Recent headlines addressed the General Aviation accident rate and compared them to other types of aviation. Relative to the airlines and the military, why is GA so much more prone to accidents? Having been lucky enough to have flown a fairly broad mix of military and part 121 operations I will try to answer that question with one word: Planning!

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.(General/President Eisenhower)

As a CFI conducting a recent flight review, I observed the pilot while dealing with a training diversion. We had talked about this event for a couple of days, he knew it was coming. Yet when I said, “Divert” it was as if I’d suggested we divert to the backside of the moon. He was totally unprepared for it. Down went his head to the iPad. Searching and searching for who knows what. It seemed like the longest time before I suggested that he at least look out the front window for a moment to do some clearing.

It doesn’t matter what your next event is, you already have some fairly broad ideas of what may or may not happen. Private Pilot check ride? Chances of a divert on a scale from zero to 100; any takers? My money is you really need to be prepared to find some frequencies, find some weather, calculate time and fuel, maybe run some form of either normal or emergency checklist, determine runway suitability and perhaps another task or two on the way to your divert airfield (it is in the book!) It really helps if you’ve at least looked at these things beforehand.

Does it have to just be a Flight Review or a Checkride? No, but EVERY flight needs to be adequately planned. Just doing a couple laps around the pattern? No problem, nothing will happen on that flight, right? WRONG, that’s the most likely time to have troubles. Those flights are the perfect time to really dig deep on preparation and planning. You shouldn’t have to spend too much time studying taxiway and runway orientation if it’s your home field. Instead study the weather, winds aloft, go back to the Airplane Flying Handbook and re-read a couple chapters on the traffic patterns and landings. I could easily offer a review of chapters 5, 7 and 8 for your pattern only review. If you’re off to another airport for that $100 hamburger there are more chapters worth going back through.

The word of the day is planning. There are rarely times when you get scrambled on a do or die mission that requires you to launch into whatever is lurking outside the door. When does planning start? I’ve got a flight later this week that I’ve been planning for at least ten days. It’s going to require four legs, every leg is adjustable to some degree which means that I’m looking at several different airports for each leg. I’ll be flying a plane that is new to me, so I intend to be very conservative on every point.

On my four-leg journey, I entered the airport where I’ll pick up the plane and the airport of my final destination. That gives me a long straight line. Based on fuel considerations I decided that I’d do four rather than three legs. A big part of that decision was the location of two Class Bravos that will impact my VFR operation. For each of my interim stops, I’d like them to be as close to the original magenta line as possible.

With the legs roughly designated, now I’m going to start getting a little more specific with each airport. At first glance, I just used the airport date block from the sectional to determine the basics. Next up I’m going into the A/FD to make sure that each airport I plan on stopping at has everything I think I might need. Hopefully, each stop will be nothing more than a “gas and go.” But it is nice to know if maintenance is available before I set down. There are several applications available but I’ve learned to love ForeFlight and all it offers.

With a couple days to go, I’ve got a rough plan. As the day approaches, I’ll start focusing on the weather and NOTAMs. If you’ve failed to plan, you’ve planned to fail. Don’t let that be you. I’ll send some pictures of my upcoming delivery flight. Be SAFE!


“Checkride Ready!™” is on the (newly updated) SAFE App this week. (If you have it installed, just close and reopen for updated app.) This new section is directed toward pilot applicants and shares the common problems DPEs see repeatedly on check rides (pink slip). Download the (free) SAFE App. today!

Author: Michael Hare

Michael has spent 45 years in aviation meeting challenges from multiple perspectives – from general aviation and commercial aviation to flying an F-16 for the military during combat. (28 years with an airline added some more calm moments aloft) His position in the Air Force as Director of Emergency Preparedness required him to deal with change and risk constantly – to plan for it. Planning is *everything*

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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