Event Spotlight: Spring is the Perfect Time for a Safety Stand-down

In December and the early part of January, the Minneapolis area “was pretty much socked in IFR with freezing fog,” Gateway Flying Club Operations Officer Matt Douglas said. The same could be said for a lot of the country this winter. Throw in cold temperatures, potentially icy ramps, and blustery conditions this time of year and it’s no surprise Gateway and other flying clubs see member activity drop off during the winter.

With spring not too far off, there’s a good chance many clubs have members who may have gotten rusty over the past few months. One way to shake off the rust is to hold a Safety Standdown. Gateway usually holds one in the spring to go over the club’s operating rules as well as emergency procedures and other safe flying practices.

Based at Anoka County Airport (KANE), just north of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Gateway has 45 members and four airplanes — a Cessna 172, 182, and a 177 Cardinal, as well as a Piper Lance. The club estimates that about half the members fly regularly, another 40 percent fly occasionally, and about 10 percent of the members no longer fly but remain in the club because they enjoy the camaraderie. Matt said about 70 percent of the active members continue to fly throughout the winter.

Gateway typically holds its Safety Standdown in February or March, when the days are starting to get longer, the weather is starting to get better, and more members awake from their winter hibernation to take to the skies once again. This year they held it a bit early, in December, but the structure and topics covered can serve as a good model for other clubs.

First off, the Safety Standdown is mandatory for members to attend. To accommodate members’ schedules and availability the club offered two in-person sessions. For members who were unable to attend, there was a make-up session, or they could schedule a time to meet with Matt separately. Anyone who doesn’t attend the Safety Standdown is grounded.

“If we have a guy right down the road and he doesn’t want to participate and show up, we ground him,” Matt said. “You’ll have to come in, sit down with me and we’re going to go through this one-on-one. If you’re not going to make the effort, we don’t want you operating these aircraft until we go through this.”

This year the Safety Standdown was an hour-long seminar, and the main topic was engine failures. They watched a FlyWire video as a group about a Cessna 210 pilot who lost his engine on takeoff. Matt led a discussion on what the pilot did well, what he did wrong, and what he could have done better.

 “There was lots of talk about the impossible turn,” Matt said. “The consensus was in any of our planes, below 1,000 feet you’re going straight ahead and taking your best option.”

Matt used a Google Map of Anoka County Airport and the surrounding area to show what options are available if a member lost an engine on takeoff. For instance, north of the airport there are golf courses and soccer fields, but to the west is a dense residential area, so a road will probably be the best bet.

“It’s helpful to look at options and get people in the mindset when you’re coming to the airport, to look around,” Matt said. “What’s in the immediate area leading into the facility? Are there wires hanging over the highway? Opening your eyes to what’s around, can be important.”

For clubs looking for content, AOPA’s Air Safety Institute has a library of safety videos, webinars, and courses that can be used for a safety seminar.

Other topics covered in the standdown included avoiding runway incursions and flying into uncontrolled airports. They refresh on how and where to make radio calls. “Even though there is no requirement to talk at an uncontrolled airport, being on the radio is definitely safer,” Matt said. “It helps to make your calls early and often and talk to other people to figure out what their intentions are.”

They went over the club’s squawk discrepancy logs to cover things that should be fixed before flying, like a landing gear strut that might be low, as well as discussing a few operational items. Matt reminded members to take care when moving aircraft in the club’s main hangar where three planes are kept to avoid hangar rash.

He also went over the club’s refueling policy to remind members of the standard procedures. For instance, the C-172 is always expected to be returned with full tanks, but the C-182 is supposed to be returned with 25 gallons on each side. They covered the calibrated fuel dipstick and how the readings may vary depending on the slope of the hangar it is in or the ramp.

Having an annual safety standdown is good practice for any club, and the spring is a perfect time to do it. With many members flying less during the winter, getting together to review club policies and procedures helps shake off any rust that might have built up. Discussing emergency situations and safety scenarios promotes a strong safety culture and pilot proficiency.

“It is a high-risk hobby that we have, and the consequences are great when mistakes happen,” Matt said. “It’s important to be aware that around the corner anything can happen, so keep your eyes open and really be on the ball. The goal is to keep people thinking about safety.”

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