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How You Can Help Scenarios

Safety Spotlight: Pinch Hitter


You can help your pilot make decisions when faced with difficult choices and help manage the many tasks that must be accomplished in the cockpit. Let’s look at how this works in real life with some “what if?” scenarios.

Delayed Weekend Plans

After a long and difficult day at the office, your pilot returns home several hours late to finish planning a flight for that evening.

The problem: The delayed departure will require you to fly over a large unlighted area at night, and it looks like some cloudy weather is moving in. Your pilot does not have an instrument rating and doesn’t have much night flying experience. You also see that she’s worn out and frustrated about problems at work.

What can you do?: Understand that having passengers creates stress for many pilots. They may feel extra pressure to complete the flight because you are on board. Let the pilot know that’s not the case. Departure can be delayed until the next morning. It’s unfortunate that things didn’t go as planned, but too many potentially challenging factors are stacking up.

Items to consider: This isn’t like an airline flight where you can rush to the airplane and then try to relax. Your pilot is the captain and must be rested and focused to fly safely. As a trained flying companion, you have the responsibility to encourage your pilot to make good decisions and feel good about the results.

Pilot Workload

Your pilot is approaching to land at a busy airport. He has expressed concern that he is unfamiliar with the area and you can tell that he’s feeling a little overwhelmed with everything.

The problem: The pilot’s workload may get too high, resulting in decreased safety of flight.

What can you do?: As the flying companion, use your skills to help the pilot manage his workload. Specifically, you can:

  • Keep charts and other items organized
  • Remind passengers not to interrupt the pilot
  • Listen for radio calls to ensure the pilot doesn’t miss any
  • Scan for traffic
  • Monitor the overall flight and inform the pilot of anything that doesn’t seem right

Tip: Ask your pilot about the “isolate” button.

Items to consider: The best way to prepare for this scenario is to practice working together in familiar areas when it is not busy.

Into the Headwinds

You’re on a cross-country trip with your pilot, trying to make it to an appointment at your planned destination. You both notice that the headwinds are stronger than forecast, making the trip take longer than expected. The fuel gauges are showing less than one-quarter tanks and you still have more than an hour to go.

The problem: Your pilot planned to fly the trip non-stop. If you make an unplanned fuel stop you won’t make it to your appointment on time.

What can you do?: As the flying companion, ask the pilot if there is enough fuel to safely make it to the destination.

Items to consider:

  • The unexpected headwind could be a sign of worsening weather at your destination
  • Things are already different than planned. Stopping for the extra fuel will give you more options
  • It’s better to be late to your appointment than be forced to make an emergency landing because you ran a perfectly good airplane out of fuel (this happens more often than you might think)

Tip: ASI recommends a one-hour fuel reserve—which means you should plan to land with an hour of fuel onboard.

Control in the Right Seat

Instances of pilot incapacitation are extremely rare. It’s highly unlikely you will ever be required to take control of the aircraft in an emergency. However, if a problem arises, you can be prepared.

You are flying with your pilot when suddenly, he suffers what appears to be a heart attack. He is now unconscious and you’re on your own.

The problem: You are not a certificated pilot.

What can you do?: Fortunately, you completed this Pinch Hitter Safety Spotlight and took flying lessons. Apply what you’ve learned, land the airplane, and get your pilot the medical attention he needs.

Items to consider:

  • Trust your training
  • Be confident and know that you can handle the situation
  • Remember that the best way to help your pilot is to focus on landing the airplane safely
  • Use the shoulder harness to keep your pilot out of the way
  • Follow your emergency checklist