How often should a GA pilot practice emergency procedures?

How often do you practice emergency procedures? Go on, be honest with yourself. When was the last time you went up and specifically practiced your mayday calls, your TIFS and HASELL checks, practiced gliding to a spot on the ground? If you can honestly say that you practice your emergency procedures once a quarter (every 3 months) then I would say well done. If you don’t, then this is food for thought.

Why should you practice emergency procedures?

There are some obvious and perhaps not so obvious reasons for ensuring you practice your emergency procedures regularly.

Resolving an issue safely

Ensuring your emergency procedures are second nature when the time calls for it enables you to concentrate on one thing – getting on the ground or resolving the situation safely. If you can swing into action straight-away as soon as a scenario appears or even begins to develop, your mind will be able to concentrate on flying rather than figuring out what to do. This can save important moments in the air potentially being the difference between landing in a suitable field to getting down over less than ideal terrain because you took too long remembering what to do.

Passengers will remain calm

If you are efficient, resilient and calm your passenger(s) will be the same. You can achieve this by swiftly and calmly going through the correct procedures and focusing on flying the aircraft. If you are showing panic and indecisiveness that’s when they’ll start panicking, which will escalate into another potential problem to deal with and also another distraction.

Trial flying lesson in Hampshire onboard a C42 Ikarus

Because nothing is ever like the text book says it is

Practicing emergency procedures regularly and in unusual situations can really help when and if an emergency does happen. It doesn’t take much exploration of the AAIB website or the stories provided by The Confidential Reporting Programme for Aviation and Maritime to see that very rarely to emergencies develop like they do in the text book. Engine failure? Okay, then let’s see a perfectly executed and beautiful descent into that immaculate looking field directly below. Once landed, park exactly perpendicular to that perfectly placed tree line and disembark gracefully for immediate scones and tea from the baggage compartment. Ah ha, right. More practice means more conditioning for unusual situations which means being more safe when and if the times comes.

Frank Borman (United States Air Force colonel, aero engineer, test pilot and NASA astronaut) is famous for saying:

A superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.

Abso-bloody-lutely Mr Borman. I do, in fact, have this saying on the wall in my home office alongside:

Fly it ’till the last piece stops moving.

Another useful aviation mantra to remember and live by. You can see more pilot and aviation sayings in this post.

Revalidation for NPPL – use the 1 hour instructor time

With our NPPL licence we are required to meet a certain number of hours in any 24 month period alongside clocking up 1 hour of instructor time. It’s worth remembering that this does not need to be taken in one chunk at the end of the 2 year period. You can break it up throughout that 2 year period. Say, 30 mins in the first 12 months and 30 mins in the second for example. You have to spend time with an instructor, by law. So use that as practice for these procedures and to get help on improving your technique and asking questions.

Which procedures should you practice?

Here’s a list of those that I recommend practicing. Some of them require little ‘action’ or ‘flying’ but sitting in the aeroplane, in the environment in which the emergency will happen is good for practice even if there’s no actual actions. For example, an engine fire; probably best not to dive at the ground on the cusp of Vne to practice putting out the flames!

  • Stalls – with and without power and in various configurations for example, cruise, climbing turn, setup for base leg, turning final and on final.
  • Precautionary landings.
  • Engine fire, smoke in the cockpit.
  • Lost procedure and calling for help on 121.5MHz (they love the practice and it’s super easy).
  • Diversions (including without the GPS).
  • Engine failure.
  • Gliding from different heights to understand how far you can travel including into and with the wind.
  • Low hops and go arounds.
  • Engine failure after take-off (EFATO) practiced away from the airfield with height.
  • Low level flying (between 500 and 1,500 feet, check NOTAMS) for practicing inclement weather and descending cloud base.

Remember to carry out HASELL checks before performing these manoeuvres.

Which are you not allowed to practice?

So there are some procedures you simply are not allowed to perform by yourself and must have a suitably qualified person with you to do them. These are:

  • Unusual attitudes.
  • Some runways, depending on heading, do not allow low hop practice so check.
  • Engine failure after take-off (EFATO) practiced at the airfield.
  • Instrument only practice.
  • Engine failures in the circuit.

Hopefully that gives you some food for thought! Next time you are flying a local, have a practice. Next time you’re flying cross-country, make some time on one of your legs to have a practice.

Disclaimer: This article was written for information and entertainment only and was up to date at the time of writing. Please always ask a qualified instructor for more information and discuss airfield, aircraft operations and the use of aircraft equipment with a suitably qualified person.