For a great number of general aviation pilots, flying is for fun and is a leisure time activity with no intention of taking it any further.
However, when sharing the airspace and runways with other aircraft safety and professionalism should run through every flight.
These tips should help you maintain or increase your ability to fly like a professional pilot at every step.
Don’t Let Your Flying Lapse
We all know how expensive flying is when it’s all coming out of your own pocket. Leisure pilots pay a lot of money to keep active and to keep their licence active. Sometimes it can seem easier to let the weeks and months slide by because it’s cheaper that way; often the weather dictates this anyway.
But to be the best pilot you can be means flying often. Being surrounded by and going through the whole process of flight keeps it fresh in your mind, and you will learn something every time to help improve your skills, knowledge and confidence in being a pilot.
Be Fully Prepared for Every Flight
There are different aspects to this. For a flight to be successful, the pilot needs to be fully prepared with proper route planning, taking the correct equipment and having information at hand that will be needed along the way (maps, radio frequencies etc.).
They will also need to prepare the aircraft properly, ensuring weight and balance checks are carried out which are appropriate for the runways to be flown on and weather conditions, and that all other preparations and checklists are carried out in full to ensure safe flight.
And just as importantly, the pilot should be prepared in their own body – arriving in plenty of time, so as not to be rushed or stressed, having rested and eaten properly beforehand. Rushing leads to important steps being missed and mistakes being made. Having extra time means more chances to go over the plan for the flight and to double check the aircraft.
This is mandatory for any airline or military pilot, so it should be the same for you.
Practice Where Your Skills are Lacking
Even pilots with hundreds of hours under their belt still have areas that could be improved. Do you struggle with landings, or emergency procedures for example? Get some dedicated practice in to combat this and go through the theory again.
Do you struggle with navigation? Give yourself some challenges, such as flying to a new airport or a place you haven’t been and properly plan and fly the route making sure you understand the process.
Fly With Other Pilots
Having another pilot in the cockpit with you is a great way to share the workload and to help learn procedures for skills you’re lacking. Whether it’s an instructor or fellow PPL pilot, you will both have particular strong and weak points, and it can also make the work of navigation, controlling the aircraft and radio calls easier. Buddying up with another pilot is also a good way of exploring new airfields and practicing maneuvers.
It is also a great way of reinforcing your own skills by teaching and working through aspects with another pilot who is struggling or less experienced with you.
Additionally, flying with an instructor now and then is important for keeping on top of areas of your own flying where you are lacking or have developed bad habits. There is no shame in any pilot doing this.
Push Your Boundaries and Learn New Experiences
I had the pleasure of learning to fly at a large controlled airport with a long runway and full ATC. I felt comfortable in this environment.
However, for a long time the idea of flying to grass strips and uncontrolled airports felt alien to me. I knew the theory, but had little experience in this area.
So I took a course at my flying school which re-taught the theory of flying on grass runways, along with the proper planning, arrival procedures and the R/T that would be used. It then saw us fly to three different airstrips, each with different characteristics.
This gave me the confidence to go out and do this by myself and gain more experience in it.
For you it may be the opposite – you learned to fly in the carefree environment of a small airfield with few restrictions but couldn’t bring yourself to head off to a busy airport and gain ATC clearance.
Whatever your comfort zone is, the best thing you can do is to push the boundaries and learn new experiences by doing it. Ask for instruction and read the theory, or buddy up with another pilot.
Pilots always have something new that can be learned, and it can all be beneficial to your safety in the skies.
Whilst it is important to hone your skills and confidence after gaining your pilot’s licence by flying solo and trying new experiences, there are also benefits to form a plan of how you will add to your skillset.
Another way is by trying out different aircraft. It may be as simple as trying a Cessna if you learnt in Pipers, or a Piper if you learnt in Cessnas. Or it could be something more advanced, like aircraft with retractable landing gear, or even by taking a tailwheel conversion course and flying something like a Tiger Moth.
At the very least, keep learning by reading books and websites on the theory of flying, navigation, maneuvers, safety and emergency procedures so that your knowledge remains fresh and is added to regularly.
Aim to Fly Professionally
The last thing on a newly-qualified private pilot’s mind is to do anything other than enjoy their new licence, probably by going on some trips or taking friends and family flying.
Further down the line, after adding more hours, experiences and possibly ratings to your licence, you may want to try something more professional.
Examples include taking passengers on introductory flights for your flying club (EASA has recently relaxed the rules regarding this), dropping parachutists, or delivering aircraft from one airport to another.
Don’t forget that without a commercial licence you can not earn money by doing any of these activities. However, by being given a job to do, it can give you an impetus to treat the flight with extra professionalism by flying to the best of your ability and recognising the attention and safety aspects that your passengers need.