The Importance Of The Preflight Inspection: A Pilot’s Perspective

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The preflight exterior walk around of the aircraft is one of the very first tasks a new flight student is taught, usually with a demonstration from the flight instructor on day one. The eager student would do well to begin to find the importance, and simple joy, of this task, as it will remain a key feature in the rest of his or her career. And the lessons learned on that simple Cessna preflight absolutely translate to a preflight on an Embraer, Boeing, or Airbus.

The preflight inspection is a rudimentary but crucial first step toward a safe flight, and its importance should not be overlooked.

A good preflight is done early

When arriving at an aircraft for a flight, I first head for the exterior jet bridge stairs after stowing my luggage. What if I find a flat tire? What if brake pads are insufficient for a subsequent flight? Any number of small or large items can develop, and the earlier I find these, the earlier maintenance personnel can be engaged, lessening the chance or impact of a delay. No sense in getting to an aircraft and setting up shop in the cockpit for several minutes only to find an issue with the aircraft outside fifteen minutes prior to pushback. A good preflight happens early.

A good preflight engages all senses

Okay, maybe not taste. But a good preflight should involve more than just looking. Are you hearing or smelling something out of place? Does a surface or feature feel wrong? Undoubtedly, what the pilot sees during a preflight walk around is paramount, but engaging the other senses is also needed.

A good preflight is systematic

A good pilot will follow a systematic flow during the preflight walk around, beginning and ending at the same place every time and working around the aircraft logically. This is essential, as we are prone to overlook or forget items without a systematic process. Personally, I begin near the nose of the aircraft, work my way around the right side of the aircraft, around the right landing gear, engine, and wing, before working around the tail and back up the left side of the aircraft, ending where it all began, near the nose. Without this systematic flow, becoming distracted and missing key inspections would be incredibly easy.

A good preflight is about more than the airplane

The preflight should be about more than the airplane. The preflight walk is a time to engage with ground crew, aircraft fuelers, and others busily working on the aircraft. It may be a friendly nod or wave, but a good pilot uses these moments for more than just putting eyes on the aircraft. It is also a valuable time to find and secure debris – referred to as foreign object debris or FOD – that could be ingested by the aircraft engines. I also like to observe the weather while I walk around the airplane. Sure, I’ve read a forecast and generally know what to expect, but nothing is superior to real-time observation.