Fly every flight like a check ride

At the IBA safety seminar Pat Cannon’s presentation “Surviving a Ramp Check” included, in part, having a current aeronautical chart in the basket. Randy Stone raised his hand and mentioned he might be the dumbest person in the room but in all his years flying he’s never heard of that. When asked how long it’s been a rule, the answer was at least as long as you’ve been flying, Randy!

Honestly Randy, I must be pretty dumb too! Like many of you I’ve been flying balloons before the time of iPads or especially before cell phones that you could pull up sectionals from a website. In the many years of traveling across the USA to attend balloon festivals I never had a chart in the basket with me for every location I was flying. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the airspace I was flying in and didn’t do all that was necessary preflight, but I didn’t physically have a chart in my basket while flying at the event. When you think of required documents, AROW (Airworthiness, Registration, Operating limitations, Weight and balance), an aeronautical chart isn’t included.

Nowadays I carry a current aeronautical chart regularly as I fly with the Foreflight app on my iPad. I can’t imagine a flight now or in the future where I wouldn’t have a current aeronautical chart at least in digital format, but I never considered it mandatory besides during a check ride as the PTS requires current and appropriate aeronautical charts.

Here’s the really cool thing about the FAA, everything has a documented procedure! Aviation Safety Inspectors (ASIs) following FAA documented procedures allows for standardization across the USA. The FAA wants rules to be uniformed across the Country. So, when an inspector conducts a ramp check, there is a document procedure and standardized documentation. You can find that in the FSIMS and it’s open for anyone to read! You can read the step by step instructions and job aides below!

Step 11 and included in the inspector checklist is, “(11)  Determine if pertinent and current aero­nautical charts are available.” 

There is a FAQ on the FAA website which answers the question on if there is a regulation covering having current aeronautical charts onboard.,chart%20with%20you%20in%20flight.

Copy and paste from the FAA website here:

What is the FAA policy for carrying current charts?

The specific FAA regulation, FAR 91.103 “Preflight Actions,” states that each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. Although the regulation does not specifically require it, you should always carry a current chart with you in flight. Expired charts may not show frequency changes or newly constructed obstructions, both of which when unknown could be a hazard.

The only FAA/FAR requirements that pertain to charts are:

  • Title 14 CFR section 91.503[a] (Large and Turbojet powered aircraft)
  • Title 14 CFR section 135.83 (Air Carriers-Little Airplane)
  • Title 14 CFR section 121.549 (Air Carrier-Big Airplanes)

The FAA’s July/August 1997 issue of FAA Aviation News on “current” aeronautical charts provided the following information:

  1. “You can carry old charts in your aircraft.” “It is not FAA policy to violate anyone for having outdated charts in the aircraft.”
  2. “Not all pilots are required to carry a chart.” “91.503..requires the pilot in command of large and multiengine airplanes to have charts.” “Other operating sections of the FAR such as Part 121 and Part 135 operations have similar requirements.”
  3. …”since some pilots thought they could be violated for having outdated or no charts on board during a flight, we need to clarify an important issue. As we have said, it is NOT FAA policy to initiate enforcement action against a pilot for having an old chart on board or no chart on board.” That’s because there is no regulation on the issue.
  4. …”the issue of current chart data bases in handheld GPS receivers is a non-issue because the units are neither approved by the FAA or required for flight, nor do panel-mounted VFR-only GPS receivers have to have a current data base because, like handheld GPS receivers, the pilot is responsible for pilotage under VFR.
  5. “If a pilot is involved in an enforcement investigation and there is evidence that the use of an out-of-date chart, no chart, or an out-of-date database contributed to the condition that brought on the enforcement investigation, then that information could be used in any enforcement action that might be taken.”

Why then is it listed as a ramp check item if not required? Think of it as an opportunity for the FAA to help you because the FAA really is there to help! Passing a check ride is doing the bare minimum for certification. When an inspector is conducting a ramp inspection they are doing surveillance, seeing what issues exist in the community. For pilots, why would you conduct a flight below the minimum standards for certification? Having the check box during a ramp inspections allows for the FAA to have a conversation and educate the pilot to avoid future issues.

Should you have a chart in your basket? The FAA says you should and I would. It’s for CYA – cover your ass. As Chris Manthe and Kendall Arkema mentioned in their presentation while discussing logging instruction and instructor endorsements, what an instructor writes in a logbook is to meet regulations and CYA if something happens. Same reason why a pre-solo exam with a student should be written although there is no legal requirement for it to be written. How do you prove you met the regulation unless you physically have proof?

If something happens and you don’t have a current aeronautical chart onboard, you have no way to prove that you’ve met the preflight preparation regulation. For example if you are flying around any controlled airports and violate airspace regulations because you don’t have a chart onboard, that will get you in trouble. You want to know where you’re at in relation to airspace at all times. A chart on board allows for that. The same is for calling flight service or using the online portal. There is no “legal” briefing, but how will you prove you received a proper weather briefing without the recordkeeping of the Leidos system?

Or, let’s say you’re taking off on the west side of Indianola on a day where the ceilings are 1,500 feet AGL and flying into the NBC field. It becomes very important where the magenta shading begins during your flight as the Class E goes from beginning at 1,200 AGL to beginning at 700 AGL. The VFR weather minimums change from clear of clouds in Class G to 500 below in Class E. If you’re suspected of violating VFR weather minimums, the first question asked would be: when you fly how do you know what airspace you’re in? You’re going to want a chart in the basket!

There are many “grey” areas for balloon pilots in the regulations and a number of items that might not be “required” but you should do for safety. Here’s another example besides current aeronautical charts. There was a stretch of time in my flying career in which I wasn’t a checklist guy. I used a checklist for my check rides, but I never really USED a checklist afterwards. It wasn’t until I forgot some items that I realized you know having a checklist probably would help. Is a checklist required by a regulation? Not that I know of!

Ask yourself though, why would I do less than the bare minimum on a flight?

I asked myself that question one day after realizing I’ve probably become too complacent. I was taking safety for granted. I thought my skill was more superior than it was and ballooning was so easy anyone could do it. I said to myself I’m a pilot. I have earned my certification by meeting the minimum standards. As a professional, why would I then go below the standards? If I wouldn’t pass a check ride with how I complete a flight that should be a sign to me that I need to improve. That was the day I vowed to go beyond the minimum standards for certification every flight, not below.

This same logic applies to grey areas in the regulations as well. At safety seminars I’ve heard pilots discuss hopping up and down on their tie off or floating a foot off the field and doing three touches and saying they’ve met currency. It might be “legal” but ask yourself, if this were a check ride would the DPE give me a certificate for hopping up and down on a tie-off three times or flying a foot off the ground? Have you met the bare minimum standards of three takeoffs and three landings? Not in my book! Meet the intent of the regulations and complete three take offs and three landings that a DPE would be proud of! Don’t go below the standards.

We all know regulations are written in blood. Someone died for that regulation to be in the book. Lockhart and the hot air balloon medicals NPRM is a perfect example of that. Regulations requiring balloon pilots to have medicals is written in blood. When it comes to currency for taking passengers, someone died because a pilot wasn’t current therefore making the regulation. At a minimum, meet the intent of the regulations. Doing anything less than that is a risk for an accident, death, and additional regulation for the rest of us.

Load charts are another hot topic these days. Again, ask yourself as you prepare for your flight, “Would I pass a check ride?” If you haven’t calculated your passenger weights, pulled out your flight manual, and turned to your load charts, you won’t pass the check ride. Don’t do any aspect of a flight below the minimum standards for certification!

If you have any questions on the minimum standards to obtain certification, take a look at the Practical Test Standards and reach out to the DPE community for advice on how you should approach your flights. On your next flight review, ask your instructor (or even a DPE) to give you a mock check ride. Make sure you are meeting the bare minimum standards for certification. If you’re not, have them teach you to bring you back up to standards. After all, isn’t that the intent of the flight review regulation?

Don’t go below the standards, don’t do the bare minimum, as a professional pilot go above the standards! Safety is our freedom to fly!