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From the Desk of the Safety Office


Michael May, Standards Officer WVFC


The Benefits of a Final Walk-around

Several years ago, when I was a First Officer at a fractional corporate jet operator, I flew with a Captain who had a routine of walking around the airplane just before we would close the door for departure. Not to be confused with a preflight inspection, this was done long after a thorough preflight had been accomplished, and generally after we had loaded our passengers, stowed the luggage, and pulled the chocks from the wheels. It took him roughly 30 seconds to accomplish this walk-around, and he did it just to be sure he hadn’t forgotten to secure a door (there were 7 exterior doors that opened various compartments on that particular aircraft) or pull the chocks. He did this on every leg without exception and at a deliberate pace, and it was always the last thing he would do before he would close the main cabin door and sit down in his seat. 

No other Captain I’d flown with had done this before. At first, I dismissed this as a random habit that he had picked up somewhere along the way and never let go of. As time went on, I began to notice that every now and then he would take a little longer than normal to accomplish his task, and it dawned on me that when that happened it was because he had found something that needed to be corrected (for those of you that have never tried to taxi an airplane when it’s still chocked or tied down, I can assure you that it is quite embarrassing). I began to realize that maybe Captain Neilson knew a thing or two about what he was doing, and that maybe I should reconsider my position on this habit.

By the time I upgraded to Captain a few years later, I had long since adopted this technique. It has served me well and prevented many embarrassing moments, but I discovered that there was a secondary, even more important benefit to it. If done correctly, it is a moment to take a breath and slow down. If I was in a hurry, distracted, or being rushed, it was an opportunity to deliberately slow down, clear my mind, and focus. From that point on I would set a new, slower, safer pace and take that into the airplane with me for the flight.

Here at WVFC, we fly very different aircraft for a very different purpose. Life’s distractions and human nature remain the same however, and at the Safety Office some of the most common mishaps we routinely see by members can be attributed to inattention, distraction, or being in a hurry. This comes as no surprise, since we all make mistakes every day because of these things. It’s virtually impossible for someone to simply not allow themselves to be affected by these external factors, so pilots must use other techniques to combat them. Taking a short walk around the airplane is one such technique, and I would encourage every member to give it a try. When you do, there are a few guidelines that will maximize its effectiveness.

1. DO NOT RUSH! I cannot emphasize this enough. This should be at the pace of a stroll on the beach. Remember, you are intentionally making yourself slow down, so scurrying around the airplane defeats the purpose. Even at this pace it should take less than a minute to complete.

2. The primary purpose of this walk-around is to check covers, tie downs, chocks, and fuel caps. Take your time and deliberately look at each of these. Do not just go through the motions. If you catch yourself doing so, start over.

3. This is a solo activity. Remember, no distractions. This means no cell phone either.

             4. If you forget to do your walk-around, don’t give up! Like any habit, this will take time to develop. You won’t remember to do it every time right away, but keep at it. You will get better at remembering it as time goes on.

To summarize, this is a quick way to verify the airplane is ready, and can also act as a mental reset if you are under the influence of external pressures. Fuel caps left off, tie-downs not removed, and baggage doors not secured are all things that can be prevented easily with a final walk-around. More importantly, entering the airplane with a focused mind and an unhurried, deliberate pace will help prevent the far more serious errors that might occur after the engine is started and the airplane leaves the ramp.