Pre-flight Checklists

Pilots · 4 min read · Jul 07, 2022
pre-flight checklist header

Safety the top priority in aviation, so ensuring everything is operating correctly and properly before any flight is essential. Consequently, a pre-flight checklist is critical in guaranteeing that safety requirements are met before the aircraft takes off.

But, what are pre-flight checklists? What do they involve? And, do pilots actually use them?

If you want to find the answers to questions like those above, we invite you to keep reading as we shed some light on the most essential aspects of pre-flight checklists.

What is a pre-flight checklist?

In general terms, a pre-flight checklist is a step-by-step guide containing the most important tasks that must be completed before taking off to guarantee all systems are operational and ready for the flight. In other words, a preflight checklist ensures that the aircraft meets regulatory airworthiness standards and is in ideal mechanical conditions for a safe flight.

Pre-flight checklists are helpful because they prevent pilots and their crew from relying on their memory to complete the tasks that are necessary for the safety of the flight.

A pre-flight checklist can be structured either sequentially or in segments, and it depends on the specific aircraft, meaning that each aircraft type will have a specific pre-flight checklist. Considering the latter is critical, since failing to use the corresponding pre-flight checklist can result in aircraft accidents.

Two pilots in a cockpit of an aircraft are going through a pre-flight checklist together.

What is a before-takeoff checklist?

The before-takeoff checklist is nothing but another name for a pre-flight checklist. The fact is that this name makes it clear that the tasks in the list must be completed in full before taking off.

However, the name before-takeoff checklist is more commonly found when a pre-flight checklist is created in segments. A segmented pre-flight checklist normally has the following sections:

  • Before-Takeoff Checklist
  • Final items
  • Before-Landing Checklist
  • Final items

This way, it is easier for the pilots and the crew to complete essential tasks that will ensure safety at every stage of the flight.

Of course, this is not the only structure a preflight checklist can take. Sometimes, a pre-flight checklist works better by using the sections of the aircraft that are inspected. This could be something like:

  • Cabin
  • Empennage
  • Right wing
  • Nose
  • Left wing

Do pilots use checklists?

Yes, pilots generally use checklists before, during, and after each stage of a flight. Of course, the pre-flight checklist is perhaps the most critical one since it covers the tasks that will guarantee the aircraft is ready for a safe flight.

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), pilots who operate under Part 91 of the federal aviation regulations, which includes most non-commercial operations, can create their own checklists, providing that they contain each element that is published in the pilot’s operating handbook checklist of the aircraft they are flying.

In general, all commercial and non-commercial flights should at least complete the minimum inspection task list provided in the pilot’s operating handbook.

More specifically, the FAA’s Federal Aviation Regulations explicitly requires a checklist for Federal Aviation Regulations, Part 121 operators (scheduled air carriers):

(a) Each certificate holder shall provide an approved cockpit check procedure for each type of aircraft.

(b) The approved procedures must include each item necessary for flight crewmembers to check for safety before starting engines, taking off, or landing, and in engine and systems emergencies. The procedures must be designed so that a flight crewmember will not need to rely upon his memory for items to be checked.

(c) The approved procedures must be readily usable in the cockpit of each aircraft and the flight crew shall follow them when operating the aircraft.

What are the pre-flight checklist procedures?

The pre-flight check procedures refer to the steps described in a pre-flight checklist. As we mentioned above, these procedures are dependent on the aircraft, so they will vary from one model to another. However, there are some tasks that may be found in any pre-flight checklist like checking the flight controls are adjusted and correct.

Here are some of the most common procedures found in a pre-flight checklist:

  • Secure nose engine oil
  • Check fuel tank vent
  • Secure tail tie-down
  • Secure pitot tube cover
  • Check wing tie-down
  • Check fuel quick drain
  • Check master switch
  • Sample fuel quantity or check fuel quantity indicator
  • Remove control lock
  • Check clear landing light
  • Check baggage door
  • Check air filter
  • Disconnect main wheel tire
  • Check stall warning opening
  • Check static port
  • Check leading edge
  • Secure elevator
  • Secure lights
  • Secure flaps
  • Check horizontal stabilizer
  • Secure rudder
  • Secure aileron

Obviously, these are not in a given order. They are just an example of how comprehensive a pre-flight checklist can be and why having a written checklist to follow makes more sense than relying on memory.

Also, all pre-flight checklists include a first step that involves verifying the required documentation is in place. This is usually abbreviated as ARROW, and it makes reference to:

A helicopter pilot in a cockpit with a flight checklist attached in a cockpit.

Airworthiness Certificate

The certificate that confirms the aircraft meets the minimum standards to fly. Keep in mind that the tail number must match the Airworthiness Certificate.


Every aircraft must be registered with the corresponding authority. This should be renewed every 3 years.

Radio License

This is only a requirement for international flights.

Owner’s Manual or Pilot’s Operating Handbook

Required for all certified carriers to have one on board.

Weight and Balance

A document reflecting the most current weight and balance so you can calculate whether or not the aircraft is too nose heavy, tail heavy, or simply too heavy in general.

Final considerations about a pre-flight checklist

Pre-flight checklists are definitely essential for the safety of any flight. As you can see now, pre-flight checks involve more than just a walk-around and visual inspection. Yet, it is important to see pilots and crew taking their time during these inspections since all these pre-flight checks can make a difference between a safe flight and one where a simple error can result in a fatal crash.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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