Ahhhh…. December holidays are upon us and the beach is calling. If you are planning to fly, afterall, why drive if you can fly, then we have some tips for you to remember before you get caught up in the distractions of the silly season:

  1. Common sense – Usually we all inherently have one of these, but as it is the end of the year, you are probably tired of most things, and most people, and just want to get to a stress free environment, we encourage you to stick with the prudent decision making that you exercise in your flying on every other occasion. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
  2. Weather – Yes, I am quite sure that you have been checking out the weather at the beach for the last few days, but have you checked the weather en-route? For example, if you are flying from Johannesburg to Durban, there is some terrain between which tends to cause weather conditions such as low cloud and mist, which often do not appear in general forecasts – if you are not sure, call a friend or fellow aviator in the area and get a heads up.
  3. Flight Plan – Imperative, no question about it. They are easy to fill in, with many options to file one. Personally, even if in some cases it is not required by law, I still file one as it makes your life a lot easier – your radio calls are short and sweet because the controller knows exactly who you are, and where you are going, as well as endurance and persons on board meaning that you can enjoy much more time enjoying the view. Most importantly, should you experience a problem, help will reach you much faster as your location and heading will be known. Just do it.
  4. Fuel up – You can never have too much fuel! As long as you have done a proper weight and balance, take all the fuel you can – you never know when you may need to divert. Also make sure that you are fueled so that your energy levels will maintain your concentration.
  5. Planning – This one is huge – I advise never to do this in a hurry! Take your time, and when looking at your planned route, pay special attention to your clearance over high terrain. If the wind is on the strong side, be especially careful of approaching mountains, especially on the leeward side where dangerous downdrafts can occur. These are almost impossible to see, but be on the lookout for lenticular clouds at the mountain peaks, and always be aware of wind direction and strength! Although the views can be spectacular, if your aircraft does not have a jet engine, rather take the scenic route around.
  6. QNH – Try to obtain an updated QNH frequently on your route, this will make sure that you have less chance of running into the ground because the pressure setting has changed and your altimeter is reading incorrectly.
  7. Alternates – Take a highlighter and mark suitable airfields on your route, even if you have no intention of landing there, it can be fun to try and spot them, and should the weather turn unexpectedly bad, or a passenger has a demanding call of nature, you can make a fast decision.
  8. Calls of Nature – While you might be practiced in the art of pre-hydration and ‘sipping’ during flights, your passengers may not be. Always brief your passengers on the expected flight time, so that they too can plan. If your aircraft is a non-jet with no ablution facilities, then ALWAYS have an emergency solution, as believe me a plastic shopping bag ain’t going to hold the contents of a full bladder! A good idea (thanks Kevin), is to carry an empty ice-cream tub, lid and all, with a cut-to-size baby’s nappy at the bottom – this will ensure no splash, and it can be sealed off with the lid. Worst case, there is always the cooler box…never to be used again!
  9. Safety – Obviously you need to ensure that the aircraft you are flying is in air worthy condition, with all the necessary paperwork on board. Do not leave this for the last minute, as this is often when supposed ‘minor niggles’ are ignored because we just want to get the hell out of our inland departure points. Ask your local AMO to give the aerie a quick once over if in doubt. Another important thing to do is to check your first aid kit and strips, fire extinguisher and ELT are in operational condition and know how to use them. Before you depart, always make sure that someone on the ground knows where you are going, and check in with that person when you arrive.
  10. Lookout – Be extra alert at this time of year, when many light aircraft take to the skies. Involve your passengers and ask them to tell you if they spot another aircraft. Mostly, enjoy the view, especially of you are flying to a new destination!

Most of all, be sensible! If you are flying you must be prepared for unexpected delays, if you have strict time constraints, rather drive or fly commercial, but do not take stupid risks just to get to your destination on a particular day or time. Allow for possible bad weather and explain this to your passengers beforehand so that they do not put you under pressure to continue in unfavourable conditions. Take it easy, make an adventure of the trip and enjoy the time off!