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A Check-up on Checklist Customization

Using a checklist is a fundamental part of any safe flight. During preflight, a checklist ensures pilots inspect an aircraft’s components and systems for proper operation and structural integrity and allows them to verify airworthiness. On taxi and during flight, they help ensure the airplane and engine are functioning properly and are configured appropriately for each phase of flight. Checklists provide important structure to the things we check often, usually in a prescribed order of priority. Bottom line: checklist usage is a sound and proven way to reduce errors and improve flight safety.

But just like airplanes change with upgrades or modifications, so too should checklists to include those new items and procedures or omit those that are obsolete. Maybe you’ve added some new avionics equipment or installed a new fire extinguisher. Or perhaps you’d like to reorder your instrument and gauge checks in a more logical manner. Or maybe you’d prefer to use a more specific term to verify a desired state than the sometimes vague “check and set” response. The question for some might be - how exactly do I modify a checklist?

While there is no approval required from the FAA to modify or customize a checklist, pilots and aircraft owners should start by consulting their aircraft’s Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) or Airplane Flight Manual (AFM), or panel placards with some older aircraft. These steps should constitute the baseline for your checklist. If there is a manufacturer-prescribed task or procedure you wish to omit -- perhaps due to concerns about mechanical wear and tear on a particular component – you should consult directly with the manufacturer to ensure safety is not compromised.

The FAA issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO 17006) in 2017 that addresses safety concerns with using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) or personally developed checklists. The notice was prompted by an accident involving a landing gear failure in which the pilot used a COTS checklist that lacked key steps regarding manual gear extension. The SAFO urges pilots to ensure any COTS or personal checklist is consistent with what the manufacturer states.

Another important reason for this consistency is apparent during practical exams for a pilot certificate or rating. Designated pilot examiners may require an aircraft manufacturer’s procedure is demonstrated when testing applicants. Those who use a checklist that differs from the manufacturer may omit or incorrectly perform an important step, impacting their ability to successfully pass the exam. If you are providing flight instruction it is essential that you show, demonstrate, and explain any omitted items to students to avoid this potential pitfall. The student should be able to demonstrate the procedure and be able to explain why it has been omitted from the modified checklist and is not performed routinely.

Having checklists that are efficient, logical, and that account for changes to an aircraft’s systems can greatly improve safety and even increase the likelihood of them being used. Just be sure the information you use for those revised checks is correct, complete, and consistent with the manufacturer’s safety standards.

Bonus Tip: Want to take your preflight checklist to the next level? Check out the FAA Safety Team’s Advanced Preflight M-Pamphlet here. This pamphlet helps pilots obtain valuable maintenance history on their aircraft like ADs, ACs, and any manufacturer service-related information, and then develop an Additional Items Checklist that can be used in conjunction with your aircraft’s preflight checklist.

If you have any questions regarding this notice, please email [email protected].

Created 78 days ago
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