Every student pilot is taught that meticulous preparation before boarding the aircraft is the most effective method for avoiding in-flight mistakes. But are they instructed to give equal weight to each of the three parts of thorough preflight planning? Maybe not. Here’s a primer extending the airworthiness assessment to include the pilot’s mental soundness.
A comprehensive preflight checklist includes the aircraft, the flight environment, and the human factor. The human factor determines a pilot’s fitness for flight, that is, their physical and psychological well-being before stepping into the cockpit. There will be no surprise that the flying community has an acronym for that. Well, actually, two acronyms.
The first memory aid to help a pilot determine if they are fit for flight is PAVE: Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, and External pressures.
The letter “P” serves as a prompt to assess both your body and mind, which segues smoothly to the second acronym, IMSAFE. Using this mnemonic device will help you recall the key human elements that require careful observation: Illness, Medications, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Emotions.
The letter “S” reminds pilots to recognize the effects of stress, and factor these into their go/no-go decision-making process. A few of its characteristic signs are memory loss, headaches, fatigue, stomach discomfort, and increased heart rate. Stress is difficult to detect in ourselves, and when it is poorly managed, the consequences can be devastating.
When scheduling your physical exam with your aviation medical examiner (AME), or personal physician if you are applying for BasicMed, it is also necessary to be aware of your mental health. For questions related to BasicMed, please go to the AOPA’s eligibility and renewal tool (airsafetyinstitute.org/medicalassessment).
The human factor is not a constant but rather a variable. In other words, a pilot’s mental state is prone to fluctuation. Pilots must, therefore, be mindful of that fact to ensure safe flight and include a mental health review in their preflight planning.
Before your next flight, ask yourself, am I airworthy? The IMSAFE checklist is the best tool for pilots to judge their physical and mental condition.