In 1981, the FAA enacted 14 CFI 121.542 and 14 CFR 135.10. These new regulations that effect Part 121 and Part 135 operations, limited, among other things, nonessential communications in the cockpit, as you can see from the excerpt below:
- b) No flight crewmember may engage in, nor may any pilot in command permit, any activity during a critical phase of flight which could distract any flight crewmember from the performance of his or her duties or which could interfere in any way with the proper conduct of those duties. Activities such as eating meals, engaging in nonessential conversations within the cockpit and nonessential communications between the cabin and cockpit crews, and reading publications not related to the proper conduct of the flight are not required for the safe operation of the aircraft.
This regulation came to be known as the “sterile cockpit rule.” The rule is in effect for operations below 10,000 feet. It makes perfect sense, there is too much happening during take-off and landings. Unnecessary distractions can only increase the workload of the crew and lead to the possibility of oversights and mistakes.
Within the last couple of years, there were two tragic accidents in the Boston area that may have been caused by distractions during the pre-flight and run-up. In each case, a control service lock was left in place and missed during pre-flight and run-up.
I can recall some embarrassing instances when I was distracted when a friend stopped by to say “hi,”and missed something during the pre-flight, including forgetting to remove a wheel chock that soon became apparent when the airplane would not move after start-up.
In each of these instances, I was with another pilot and we were talking to each other during the pre-flight about the things related to the upcoming flight. So, we both missed removing that chock during the pre-flight.
The FAA has a good idea with the “silent cockpit.” It is probably also a good idea for general aviation pilots to adopt a “silent pre-flight.” Should your co-pilot or a fellow pilot begin a conversation, stop the preflight, do not continue to preflight and also carry on a conversation. Do one or the other, but not both.
What are some things that pilots can do to minimize the risk of missing something?
- Use a preflight checklist. Use it during the preflight and then double check it again at the end of the preflight to insure that nothing was missed.
- Adopt the same flow pattern around the airplane when doing the pre-flight. Jumping from one side of the airplane to the other could result in something being missed. I am a strong believer in doing a circle around the airplane.
- Finish the preflight with a 360° walk around the airplane. Certainly not as thorough as the preflight, but a good way of taking another look at the airplane for something that may have been missed.
- Even if the other pilot checks the oil and the fuel, you should also check. You are not checking the other pilot’s preflight skills, you are verifying that you also checked those levels and know what they are.
A “silent preflight’ will permit you to focus on the very important task of ensuring the aircraft is ready for flight.