Why Are Checklists Important In Aviation? (5 Situational Facts)

Co-Pilots Checklist, Don't Toiuc and keep your mouth shut.
Co-Pilot Checklist, Sit Down, Shut up.

On my first day of flight training walking from the flight school office out to the airplane, I began to be indoctrinated into the world of checklists and I wondered as I suppose many other people had “Why Are Checklists Important In Aviation?”

Why Are Checklists Important In Aviation?

Checklists are the most important aspect of the orderly completion of items necessary for the safe outcome of each phase of flight. They ensure that nothing is missed, overlooked, or forgotten from pre-flight to engine shutdown. They are important because they save lives.

1. What Is A Checklist?

A checklist is an essential cockpit tool for the safety of flight. They are important written orderly guides required for each item performed.

Two pilot crews will use challenge and response lists while a single pilot will read and do them regardless of whether the checklist is memorized. Some aircraft require pilots to memorize emergency checklists for a quicker response but they must always be followed by reading the checklist so all items are completed.

Checklists help to improve efficiency assuring that steps are not overlooked while saving time.

They are written for safety reasons. The strongest memory is many times weaker than the dimmest ink!

2. Do Checklists Really Work?

Yes, checklists really do work. They assure that an organized flow in the cockpit is present and assure that there is no step missed.
Checklissts increase situational awareness in the cockpit which in turn increases safety.
Far too many accidents are due to missing an important step during the flight
There is an adage about pilots who begin flying their first retractable gear airplane that goes a bit like this when it comes to landing an aircraft gear up; “There are those that have and those that will,” remember that and you might not become a statistic.
That speaks a great deal of truth because many many accidents in aviation are due to the neglect of using the checklist. They really do come in handy in an emergency and for the most part, most emergency items should be committed to memory because at times you may need to complete the task before the checklist, but then complete the checklist.

3. Creation Of Aircraft Checklists.

Checklists have been developed for every aspect of airplane operation and construction. They have been designed by the aircraft manufacturer and countless hours of operation.

This may be a bit foreign to some folks that even the aircraft manufacturer uses a checklist for the construction and the maintenance technicians use a checklist for all items in their inspections. Then the Pilot’s checklist for the safe operation of the aircraft.

The more complex the airplane the resulting technical and operational checklist is complex as well.

4. Checklist For Each Phase Of Flight.

The checklist begins well before the airplane is ready for flight. A preflight checklist is conducted which consists of a walk-around and a visual inspection of the aircraft.

Once the visual inspection of the exterior is completed the pilot will enter the flight deck and commence the flight deck inspection to complete the preflight inspection.

Once this is completed the pilot is ready for the preflight checklist to be read, then on to the start-up checklist, the taxi checklist, the before takeoff checklist, the after takeoff checklist, the climb checklist, cruise checklist, decent checklist, before landing checklist, landing checklist, after landing checklist, followed by all of the shutdown procedures after parking.

Each and every phase of aircraft operation has its own checklists and if they are properly executed the chances of a safe flight or extremely high barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Any such unforeseen circumstances would constitute another checklist which would be a non-normal checklist or emergency checklist, many of these checklists are required to be memorized so that you can execute any necessary procedures. Then the printed checklist for the specific problem or emergency will be read and which will assure that all of the items on the checklist were properly completed.

5. Statistics and Safety.

Accident reports are a part of aviation that are always scrutinized by everyone. Plane crashes happen every day. When Airliners crash everyone hears.

Those in aviation are always briefed about accidents, especially when it impacts daily operations at the airline.

Far too many accidents are attributed to checklist failures in the cockpit. The reports are a Google search away. You can read them here. 

The fatalities from 1983 to 1993 were 279 deaths directly related to improper or no use of a checklist. A stupid way to end one’s life.

The most common mistakes with checklists is;

1. Failure to use a checklist.

2. Improper checklist, (use of the wrong checklist.

3. Interruption of the flow of the checklist, and failing to start over.

4. Overlooking a checklist item or items.

Pilot error attributes to the majority of aircraft accidents while 22% are mechanical.

It must be remembered that flying is by far the safest way to travel so if we can reduce deaths or accidents due to pilot error, especially checklist use we will save lives.

Final Thoughts.

I have made mistakes with checklists and I am grateful that I learned to discipline myself to always use the checklist. My failures to use the checklists were caught very early on and I was very lucky to have lived past my mistakes. Any could have been fatal!

I would not wish to kill all aboard my aircraft because I was lazy.

This is the disciplined use of situational awareness and the flight starts long before the airplane is in sight. Slow down and think!

A hurried or ill-prepared pilot is dangerous.

Situational awareness is all of the time in all activities, but airplanes require total concentration and after the written checklist a flow checklist should keep you very informed on everything and possibly avert an accident or incident.

Remember my favorite quote, “Aviation, in itself, is not inherently dangerous, but it is totally unforgiving of any incapacity, inability, or neglect.”

Live to fly another day!

Related: Are Small Airplanes Safe? ( 6 Things to Consider)


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