BY DOUG STEWART
Distractions A few weeks ago I had to fly with a client in his Panther Navajo from my home base at the Columbia County Airport, just south of Albany, New York, to his winter home base of St. Augustine, Florida. This is a trip we fly frequently, and the entire trip, including a half-hour drive at each end of the trip, as well as the time to conduct a thorough preflight inspection, rarely takes more than a total of seven hours. Knowing that my client is typically very eager to be on the way as soon as he arrives at the airport, I always arrive early enough to have sufficient time to conduct the preflight inspection. I learned early on in my flying career of the dangers of rushing through a preflight. With some embarrassment I will admit to having missed something important on a preflight inspection because of being in a hurry. I have learned my lesson, so I always arrive at the airport sufficiently ahead of my client to be sure I am not rushed into missing anything during the inspection. This particular day the total doorto-door time was just under six hours, thanks to some healthy tail winds for the first two-thirds of the trip. The trip home, however, courtesy of a national airline that shall remain nameless, was to take quite a bit longer. In fact it took just a tad under eight hours for the door-to-door excursion to return to my humble abode. But the fact that it took almost 25 percent more time to fly the same trip courtesy of the air-
28 FEBRUARY 2007
lines than it did in a private general aviation airplane was overshadowed by some of the things I witnessed and experienced on that trip home.
. . .it seemed to command so much of her attention trying to hear on that miracle of modern communication that she hardly ever glanced at the airplane. It all began with the absurdity of the mentality I had to face as I went through the security check. All I had with me was a large flight bag. Inside of the bag were all the publications that I might have needed on the trip down to Florida. This included approach plates for the eastern third of the United States, as well as en route charts, sectional charts, and airport/ facility directory (AFD) for any possible eventuality or diversion. Then in one pocket was an assortment of flashlights, in another my electronic E6B, and in a third my 396 GPS receiver, along with its assortment of tangled wires for antennas and power.
Also stashed inside the main compartment was my laptop computer that, sad to say, has become virtually indispensable to me. (To think that not too many years ago I was of a mentality that a pencil and paper as well as two tin cans and some string were all that I would ever need to fulfill my communication requirements. Little did I know. . .) Other communication devices in the bag included my cell phone and its charger, a couple of extra pens and highlighters, and an old CD that I keep for use as a signal mirror. In the two pockets remaining at either end of the bag were my headset in one and my dirty clothes from the day before stuffed in the other. Needless to say I am always a wee bit anxious as to how those bastions of aviation security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint inspectors, will react to this baggage. If I intended to use an airline airplane for my own purposes, I certainly had the tools to do so. In fact on a previous airline excursion, the TSA found one of those tools unacceptable and confiscated my Leatherman, despite my vehement albeit fruitless protests. So I will admit that I was not that surprised to have them pull me aside, on the far side of the baggagescreening device, asking me if that big flight bag was mine. I had visions of having to repack everything so carefully so as to ensure that it would all fit inside, as
the inspector started her ardent rooting in my bag. My greatest fear was that she would have a problem with my GPS. My protests of her trying to confiscate that, should she chose to, would be more than vehement. However she passed right by it, as well as all the other things that I had thought might present a problem. This lady inspector was on a mission to find something even more threatening to the security of flight. And then, exclaiming “Aha,” she held up a little stuff sack I forgot to mention in my description of the contents of the bag. Wedged into a crevice of the main compartment was a small nylon stuff sack. Inside of that sack was the object of her search. The stuff sack contained a toothbrush, a comb, and . . . a small tube of toothpaste. “Is this yours?” she asked, taking the tube of toothpaste out of the sack, as if it might belong to someone else? “Yes” was my simple reply. “Well you can’t take that on an airplane,” she said, as if the tube contained explosives rather than some minty, alkaline, and mildly abrasive paste. “You can only take that on the airplane if it is inside a 1-quart Ziploc clear plastic bag,” she said. Hmm, try as hard as I might, I couldn’t seem to visualize or conjure up how a Ziploc bag would provide the requisite protection from the potential explosive qualities that might reside in the baking powder ingredient of my toothpaste. “I think you had better confiscate that tube then,” I said to the lady. “My flight is already boarding, and I would hate to miss it for lack of a 1-quart Ziploc bag.” With a smug acknowledgement that her mission had been successfully accomplished, she allowed me to continue to my boarding gate. I was hoping my flight would leave on time so I wouldn’t miss my connection at the midpoint changeover stop. On the last flight with this airline we had sat at the gate for over an hour because one of the four lavatories on board the aircraft was not functioning as it should. I guess only three out of four lavatories function-
ing becomes a no-go item. Thank God the potty chair residing in the seventh seat of the Navajo I had just flown was not on my inspection list. We might have never gotten airborne if it had been. This time my flight miraculously departed on time, and I arrived in Philadelphia with more than ample time to make my connection. Thus I was able to observe the crew for that flight arrive and board the airplane. From my seat in the terminal I was also able to observe the first officer as she walked down the outside stairway of the Jetway and commence her walk-around inspection of the airplane. I did not expect to see her conduct a thorough preflight inspection of the aircraft. After all, it had just arrived at the gate a short while ago, and I was sure that if there had been any major squawks (like a non-functioning lavatory), the crew leaving the airplane would have written them up. However, I was not prepared for what I did see. This young lady, quite possibly a recent graduate of one of the numerous flight academies that now promise “a job with the regionals,” started walking around the airplane. She had stuck a finger of her left hand in her left ear and to her right ear she held a cell phone. It must have been awfully hard to hear anything on that cell phone as she walked around the airplane, what with the auxiliary power unit of the regional jet running, as well as numerous other airplanes taxiing by. In fact it seemed to command so much of her attention trying to hear on that miracle of modern communication that she hardly ever glanced at the airplane. I was shocked! I have certainly seen a wide variety of attitudes exhibited by pilots relative to inspecting an airplane. There are some pilots who seem to adopt the attitude that “kick the tires. . . light the fires” is sufficient, even on the first flight of the day. Then there are the pilots that will conduct an inspection as thorough as the first preflight of the day, even when they have just landed and only shut down
long enough to use the lavatory that they might have wished they had on board their aircraft. Certainly prior to our first flight of the day, it behooves each and every one of us to conduct a thorough preflight inspection. We all have to guard against distractions and being in a hurry as we do this. If you are bringing passengers along or a fellow pilot who might be sharing the flight with you, be sure they do not keep you from paying complete attention to your inspection. All it takes is one small distraction, or being in a hurry, to miss something that might make a big difference. [My kids have known since they were little that when dad needs to do his preflight, no interruptions are allowed. The same holds from the beginning of the run-up until after takeoff, once we’re outside of the traffic area, and before I make my first call to the tower once we’re inbound. A simple “It’s time to be quiet now” and then “It’s okay to talk now” does the trick.—HGF] I can’t help but wonder how many times a pitot cover was left on or cowl plugs left in or even, worse yet, gust locks left in place because of a question or comment spoken to the inspecting pilot in the midst of the preflight inspection, or because the pilot was in a rush. Just one small oversight has the potential to lead to catastrophic results. I have seen more than one airplane rolled up in a ball, because for whatever reason a gust lock had been left in place. We all know how complacency has the potential to lead to disaster, and this is just as important when we inspect our airplanes as it is in every other aspect of aviation, whether it be a thorough preflight inspection or just a walk-around after a “pit stop.” So please take the time to be thorough in your preflight inspections . . . even when blue skies and tail winds are beckoning. Doug Stewart is the 2004 National CFI of the Year, a NAFI Master Instructor, and a designated pilot examiner. He operates DSFI Inc. (www.DSFlight. com), based at the Columbia County Airport (1B1).
VINTAGE AIRPLANE 29