Preflight the Pilot!
Are you ready to fly?
September 1, 2017
The primary job of every pilot from takeoff to touchdown is to fly the plane. One of the most important efforts prior to that is for the pilot to inspect the aircraft thoroughly to help ensure the aircraft is indeed safe and ready for flying. But is there anything before that, which is just as important? Yes! Inspect yourself. Ask yourself if in fact, you are truly ready to fly.
You are the expert about what is going on inside you and in your life. You have the most current, and accurate information about how you feel, what may be a bit unusual, or what feels a little different this day. You are the expert witness who knows what you consumed before coming to the airport whether it is food, beverage, or medication.
Think about this. As the pilot-in-command, you are solely responsible for how that plane is handled and treated. Are you not equally responsible for how you handle your health and treat your physical and mental self? Of course you are. Sadly, too many people get into an airplane without “preflight-ing” themselves; without taking the time to assure they are truly, physically ready for flight.
Being thoroughly prepared for flight is something that needs to be driven home to every aviator, but especially to student aviators. It should also be a part of every pilot’s checklist of preparations for flight no matter how many hours or how much experience he or she has. Failing to check the person can lead to a situation that aviator might be unprepared to handle.
Many over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescription medications can have a significant effect on the user. Even the lack of sleep, certain foods, and beverages that may have high amounts of salt, sugar, sweeteners and/or caffeine can impact your immediate health. These things can raise your blood pressure, your energy level, and even over-stimulate you, and then rapidly lower your energy level causing you to feel sleepy.
If you are fighting a cold or allergy, you might use over-the-counter drugs or prescription medicines. Do you know what effect these medications can have on you? Do you know how combinations of medications can react when taken at the same time? Have you asked your FAA Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) these questions? Have you asked your AME how long the effects might last? Have you considered what could happen if you have an adverse reaction while in flight, or anywhere for that matter?
Drugs, stimulants, depressive medications, suppressive medications and the like can have a serious effect on anyone. But when it happens to a pilot in flight, the results can be potentially deadly. Many drugs can seriously degrade a pilots’ performance. Simple OTC medications like cough syrup and pain relievers can impair a pilot’s alertness, memory, judgment, vision and coordination. These are all extremely important faculties to have at peak performing levels when flying. Inspect yourself before you fly.
Some prescription drugs like blood pressure medicines and motion sickness medications can have very similar effects as those mentioned in the previous paragraph. They may also make a pilot more susceptible to hypoxia. The point is, if you use any drug, stimulant, medication, prescription, and even certain foods, ask your favorite AME what effects these things are likely to bring about, well before you get into an airplane.
Drugs and medications aren’t the only things that can affect a pilot’s performance in the air or on the ground. Fatigue, stress and emotion can also play a significant role in the way a person responds to the flight environs. Rather than take a chance with the unknown, ask your AME about the possible effects of the condition at hand. Fatigue, stress, and emotional factors are insidious and too often simply ignored. Yet they can be a prime factor in a chain of causation, (a series of events, each of which was caused by the immediately previous event), that can lead to a serious or even a deadly outcome.
If, for instance, you are stressed and emotional when you get to the airport, how will you respond if an air traffic situation develops? How will you handle a sudden weather change, or perhaps a mechanical problem with your aircraft? Will the added stress take you to a state of being unable to function quickly and correctly? Will it drive you to the point of making serious judgment errors? Will it make you rush and forget to properly use your checklist? In the rush, will it make you take shortcuts that could seriously impact your safety and the safety of your passengers? Will it occupy your mind to a point that you aren’t hearing ATC calling you?
Again, the key point is that you are responsible for you! If you have any questions or doubts about your medicines, the foods you eat, or something that may be bothering you, don’t take a chance. Ask your AME or MD. For general information you can even ask your favorite CFI. Seek out information to help yourself make the right decisions. Before you fly, do a thorough preflight inspection on yourself! Then ask yourself the following question: Are you ready to fly?
This article is adapted in part from the Jan/Feb 2004 FAA News article Preflight Yourself Before You Fly, by J.C.Boylis.