To fly or not to fly, that is the question. It sounds like an old cliché, but the risks of becoming complacent in the cockpit as pilots are both real and extremely dangerous.

As general aviation pilots we are asked, why do we fly? More than likely the answer is because we love it! From the moment we push the throttle up, every square inch of our body succumbs to exhilaration as adrenaline flows and the runway gets shorter and shorter.

Just like most other pilots, I personally would not trade that feeling for anything. I have not found anything on the ground that even compares to the feeling of flight.

However, prior to pushing the throttle up, prior to engine start, even prior to preflight, we must ask ourselves blunt questions about our ability to operate the aircraft safely.

Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection.
Photo courtesy of the author’s personal collection.

Is it safe outside to fly? Is the airplane safe to fly? Am I safe to fly?

There is a code we pilots, quite literally, live or die by as it applies to our personal readiness. I would much rather keep the number of days I’ve flown where I wish I hadn’t to zero.

As a pilot, we all learned this Mnemonic: IMSAFE.

  • I – Illness (Am I sick? Are my sinuses acting up? Do I feel well enough to fly?)
  • M- Medications (Am I taking anything that will dull my senses or slow my response time?)
  • S- Stress (Am I too stressed? Is there something else on my mind that will interfere?)
  • A- Alcohol (The FAA’s minimum requirement is “eight hours from bottle to throttle”)
  • F- Fatigue (Have I gotten enough rest? I am awake, alert, and refreshed enough?)
  • E- Eating (Have I eaten enough? Have I eaten the right kind of food?)

So many times pilots become complacent and get in the plane, flying away without even asking these questions. Even prior to entering the world of aviation, I vividly remember myself in this precise situation.

I was on an international trip to from Florida to a remote island in Fiji. Making my way on commercial air carriers, I changed planes many times. The closer I got to my destination, the smaller the aircraft became. The last plane I boarded was 35-passenger twin-turboprop. As we boarded (out on the tarmac), it was obvious the weather was deteriorating by the minute. Sure enough, just moments into the flight, we were in the middle of a very horrific scenario.

During the entire flight the weather was extremely rough and violently threw us around. As the aircraft did not have any cockpit doors, we could see the chaos happening at the controls. The pilots were forced to fly in an extremely aggressive crab just to maintain some sort of bearing to our destination. This was quite the scary and helpless feeling–as well as an example of unnecessary risk. Bottom line: knowing what I know now, I would not have boarded that plane.

While I can’t control what other pilots do, it was a stark reminder of my own accountability.

Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection.
Photo courtesy of the author’s personal collection.

It’s not about being risk takers, adrenaline junkies, or adventure seekers. It’s about understanding that above our love of flight, we should never lose respect for the basic laws of physics, or our ability to maintain our focus on the task of safely flying our aircraft.

By consistently asking ourselves these simple questions and taking honest assessment of our personal readiness, we can avoid complacency, remove unnecessary risks, and live to fly another day.