Part of the reason that Embraer is succeeding in making useful checklists is that it
is new to building GA airplanes, and it is taking its cue from the airlines that are the core
of its business. Airlines each create their
own checklists and receive FAA approval to
use them in their operations. And the airlines have learned that crews have more
important and productive tasks to perform—
such as looking out the window when
taxiing—than to be head-down reading a list
long enough to tell you how to build the airplane, not just fly it.
But, the good news is that unless you fly a
transport category airplane, or fly under an
operating certificate such as FAR Part 135
charter rules, there is no FAA requirement
to use a checklist, or what checklist to use.
In piston airplanes we are all free to make
and use our own checklists and procedures.
The FAA’s hidden club in the rules to
punish improper use of checklists that leads
to an accident or incident is FAR 91. 103 with
a preamble that reads, “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight,
become familiar with ALL available information concerning that flight.” I capitalized
the ALL, not the FAA, but you get the drift.
And then there is the ever-popular FAR 91. 13
that forbids “careless and reckless operation.” The FAA gets to define what that is,
and if you run out of gas or slide it on with
the wheels up, you broke one or both of
those rules, not a rule requiring that you use
Before making your own checklist, it’s a
good idea to think about how you plan to use
the list. Most instructors and flight schools
teach the “do list” method of flying, but many,
if not most, human factors experts believe
that using the “checklist” to check is better.
Under the common “do list” operation
you read an item on the list and then perform the function, such as moving a switch
or checking the reading of an instrument.
Using the “checklist” method you work your
way across the cockpit—or around the airplane during preflight—in an organized
manner performing the necessary tasks.
Then you read the list to check that you
haven’t missed anything. The checklist
method moves much quicker and interferes
less with other flying tasks at critical times,
such as on approach to land.
Another key element to a usable checklist is using so-called “memory items.” These
are actions that should be obvious, such as
switching to a fuller tank if the engine falters
or applying carb heat if engine power starts
to sag. These are normal pilot actions that
you must be able to accomplish more or less
automatically because there is often no time
to consult a list.
Unless you fly a transport
category airplane, or fly under
an operating certificate such as
FAR Part 135 charter rules, there
is no FAA requirement to use a
checklist, or what checklist to
use. In piston airplanes we are
all free to make and use our own
checklists and procedures.
The best-designed cockpits are intended to
allow pilots to use a “flow” to perform specific tasks. For example, it’s ideal to have the
battery and other primary power switches
on the far left so you can turn them on first
and then move your eyes and hands across
the cockpit to check and set instruments and
systems. Many airplanes with certification
roots many years in the past do not have
good cockpit flow because systems and avionics were changed, added, or subtracted
over the years. But even in airplanes that are
a bit of a jumble, you can create your own
flow pattern that may not move smoothly
across the entire cockpit, but is a pattern
that you can repeat on each flight. Repetition
and predictability are the keys to using a
flow and a list.
I don’t recall having a printed checklist in
my first airplane, a Cessna 140, or in the
Piper Colt I flew some for primary instruction. But what I do remember, and still use
in my Baron and in most piston airplanes as