Say Goodbye to Bad Pilot Habits – Five Things to Change this New Year


Whether you’re a new or an experienced private pilot, there are habits that we all pick up which can be distracting and detrimental to our flying.

If you’re like me, the start of a new year is a time to reflect on what I’d like to change in the coming year and what challenges I want to tackle. It’s a time of possibilities, and often we can take great steps to improving an area in which we want to see improvement; the key is in keeping it up for a whole year, but habits formed early should enable you to see them through.

I’ve put together this list of five bad habits which pilots can form, with some tips on how to put them behind us and become better, more focused and confident flyers this New Year.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?


Ignoring Your Training

How long ago did you train to become a pilot? Do you remember the strain of trying to learn all of the new techniques, studying for the written exams, trying to keep on top of navigation, emergencies, advanced skills?

If it’s been more than a year since you gained your licence, chances are you have already put so much of your training to the back of your mind and have no intention of dragging it up again. When was the last time you pulled out your “whizz wheel” before planning a flight?

Forgetting or ignoring your training can have dire consequences and leave you open to bad pilot habits. After all, the foundations we learn in how to fly and aircraft, how to check its airworthiness, how to deal with emergencies, and how to safely plan a flight and navigate, are taught for a reason.

So this year, why not take the time to refresh your memory as often as possible? Try and take a particular aspect of flying technique and learn the theory again, or commit to practicing emergency drills and memorising the steps you’d take if it happens in real life. Read through the study books, such as Air Law, Communications, Meteorology and Human Factors and think through their applications to your flying now that you have more hours under your belt.


Staying in the Safety of Your Local Area

There’s always a temptation when you want to go flying but have no firm plans, that you’ll just stick with what you know. That is, to fly from the airfield you always fly from, and potter about in the immediate area which you know so well. You probably did your training here. You have probably taken all of your friends and family on flights around here. You see the same landmarks and towns as you always do. And it is no challenge or fun any more.

This is a waste of money and a waste of the licence you’ve worked so hard to gain. So, with a bit of forethought, every flight you take this year can be something new, something challenging, or something that takes you to a place you’ve always wanted to go.

By doing so your confidence in flying and navigating will grow immeasurably and you’ll finally have the stories to tell people of the places you’ve been able to visit as a pilot.

If it’s a daunting task, why not ask around for buddies at the local flying club who might want to share the cost in order to go on some trips? You will be able to share the duties of flying, navigating, and communication to reduce the workload in this new environment.

Start this year by planning a few flights to places you’ve always wanted to visit or see from the air.


Always Flying Alone

Flying alone, or as the only pilot in the plane, is incredibly liberating and fun – a real achievement. But by never flying alongside other pilots you risk developing bad pilot habits and assuming your own knowledge of different situations.

If there is another pilot in the cockpit, situations that arise can be discussed and a best course of action taken. This could be anything from ‘Where did the controller tell us to park?’ to ‘How should we approach this airfield that we’ve never flown into before?’

It can take a load off your mind in difficult situations, and you can learn a lot from the shared knowledge and experience gained by flying with other pilots.

In addition to this, taking a ride with an instructor should not be shied away from. It can be frustrating to be made to have a check ride after not having flown for a month, or when your biennial anniversary comes around, but I always find I learn something or have a bad habit corrected which is really valuable to my flying. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to ask any questions that may have arisen whilst flying, or to catch up on what’s new with club aircraft, equipment, airfield procedures etc.

Make it a resolution this year to find a flying partner, and also to book some time with an instructor to go over some rusty maneuvers or theory.


Performing Thorough Checks

I’ve noticed that in the years since gaining my private pilot’s licence my checks have become less thorough and I skim over them far too often. This is not good enough and I know it. If you’re the same, then you should know it too.

Checklists are laborious and we all like to think that we know everything when we’ve spent hundreds of hours in a particular aircraft. But the human mind is not perfect and our memory can easily skip over something important if we let it.

It doesn’t take long searching online or in accident reports for incidents (and deaths) that occur because of a failure by a pilot to follow all of the steps in his checklist. Thinking it is unimportant is not acceptable, and we need to remember that they exist because the manufacturers of these complex machines have thoroughly tested the steps needed to safely operate them at each stage of the flight.

The same goes for pre-flight checks of the airframe, engine, wheels, fuel, stall warner etc. Performing these checks is vital and should not be skipped over.

I’ve been trying to familiarise myself with the checklists more lately so that it’s not a list of items that I do without thinking. I want to know what I’m doing at each stage and what effect it has on the aircraft or the flight, and what consequence it could have if it is forgotten, or if the check doesn’t return the expected result. Why not challenge yourself to do the same this year?


Wasting Money

Let’s face it, flying is expensive. So if we can become smarter about what we spend and avoid unnecessary expenses, that’s surely a good thing, right?

The main costs of flying are fuel/aircraft hire, training, landing fees and aircraft maintenance (for those lucky enough to own an aircraft).

This year I challenge you to plan ahead and be more aware of where costs will occur and do something to reduce or avoid them. For example:

  • Make sure you book a solo flight in plenty of time to avoid having to to a 28 day check ride with an instructor, especially when the weather may cause problems.
  • When planning different airfields to visit, make use of free landing vouchers available in magazines, or fly-in events with no landing fees.
  • Ask your flying club if they can offer a discount on training or hire rates if you pay a lump sum up front.
  • Shop around for your aircraft maintenance, and plan it well in advance to take advantage of the best rates.
  • If you need some new equipment check classifieds or online auction listings to see if a cheaper second-hand version is available.

If you have any other tips on saving money on your flying, or any other bad pilot habits, why not leave a comment below.


Matt Falcus is a private pilot and aviation writer. He has been flying since 2006, taking the opportunity whenever the British weather allows to explore the local area and other airfields. He is author of a number of aviation books.

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