The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and the sky is calling – flying season has returned at last! As the best time of year gets underway, it is a good time to assess your recent experience and examine your personal minimums. For most of us, the summer months are when we fly the most, and that means we may have lost some proficiency over the winter.
Minimums are different pilot to pilot and even can vary flight to flight depending on the situation. As a rule for all pilots, though, even if you’re comfortable with deteriorating conditions or extremely low ceilings, your personal minimums should not lead to a flight of dubious legality.
Determining your limits depends on a variety of factors, like the weather, the airplane, your passengers, and your proficiency, just to name a few.
Weather: One of the biggest factors in any go/no-go decision is the weather, such as the ceiling, visibility, and winds. Are your minimums different for a cross-country flight versus a local flight? What if you’re just staying in the pattern? You may prefer a higher ceiling on long cross-country flights, or possibly require a greater visibility the lower the ceiling gets.
Airplane: Another question you should ask yourself is how comfortable are you in the airplane you’re planning to fly? Do you have hundreds of hours in it or is this your first flight post-checkout? Your minimums might be different in a conventional gear airplane versus one with tricycle gear, and if you’re planning to fly IFR, familiarity with the avionics and airplane is critical. Watch this video about a pilot who was new to an airplane and chose to fly it in IMC with tragic results.
Passengers: Before your flight, consider the abilities and experience of your passengers. Is your passenger a fellow pilot or an instructor? Or is this their first flight in a small GA airplane? As pilots, we grow comfortable with the unexpected ups and downs of turbulence, the sounds of the engine, and gusts on landing. But to a passenger, these can be new, uncomfortable experiences. Consider including any airmets or pireps that include turbulence in your personal minimum planning when flying with passengers.
Keep in mind that personal minimums should derive from a movable scale based on recency and proficiency reflective of your current skill set. As pilots, we tend to think highly of ourselves and our abilities, and it can be hard to cancel a flight because of limits we set for ourselves. Canceling a flight or changing the plan is sometimes the best and safest option, and knowing your limits is indicative
ASI’s new Scalable Safety Framework
The AOPA Air Safety Institute has released a Scalable Safety Framework (SSF), a PowerPoint presentation with a supporting PDF, that can be downloaded by aviation organizations like flying clubs to help them formulate, implement, and sustain a safety culture that is geared and scaled to their specific organization. Consider putting together a Scalable Safety Framework for your club today! The presentation can be downloaded on ASI’s Safety To Go page.