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  Home > Newsletter > Are You Safe to Fly? Reviewing the IMSAFE Checklist, October 2014

Are You Safe to Fly? Reviewing the IMSAFE Checklist

Responsible pilots are very familiar with pre-flight checklists to ensure that an aircraft is safe and ready to fly. But equally important is the determination that the pilot and co-pilot are physically fit and psychologically able to safely perform their duties. Thankfully, there’s also a checklist for that. Here’s a review of the IMSAFE pilot checklist from aviation.about.com.

Understanding IMSAFE

The IMSAFE checklist is a mnemonic device created to help pilots and co-pilots determine if they are fit to fly. Usually taught early in flight training, it is critically important that every pilot conduct a personal pre-flight health assessment before piloting any aircraft.

There are myriad physiological and psychological factors that could impair a pilot’s ability and render a flight unsafe, including physical illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue and emotion. The IMSAFE checklist will help ensure you’re fit to fly and meet the standards in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 67 before any flight.

IMSAFE stands for:

  • Illness: Do you have current or recent illnesses that could affect flight?
  • Medication: Have you been taking any meds that could impair your ability to fly?
  • Stress: Are you experiencing unusual psychological pressure and/or anxiety?
  • Alcohol: Have you had any alcohol in the last eight hours? Are you hungover?
  • Fatigue: Are you tired and/or not adequately rested?
  • Emotion: Are you emotionally upset about anything?

While the FAA requires most pilots have a valid medical certificate for flight, occasional medical exams don’t cover illnesses such as colds and flu. However, FAA rule FAR 61.53 does state that, “If a pilot has or develops a known medical condition that would prevent him from obtaining a medical certificate, he is prohibited from flying as a required crewmember.”

Also, rule FAR 91.3 states that, “The pilot in command is directly responsible for the operation of the flight. The pilot alone is responsible for ensuring his own health is up to par before taking the controls.”

Don’t underestimate the effect that the common cold and/or allergies can have on your ability to fly. From watery eyes to a runny nose to just feeling out of it, make sure you consider any current conditions that might affect flight.

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can be dangerous for a pilot to take before flying. For example, diphenhydramine, commonly known as Benadryl®, can inhibit a pilot’s ability to fly and potentially cause an accident.

If you have a condition where medication is necessary, discuss the specific medicine and its physical and psychological effects with an aviation medical examiner (AME) prior to flying.

If you’re on medication, the amount of time to wait before flying depends on the specific medication. The FAA recommends waiting until at least five dosage periods have passed. Also, research and be aware of potential long-term effects of using the medication. Even after you stop, a drug may remain in your body for some time after.

Stress is a regular part of life for most people, especially pilots and other aviation professionals. In fact, some stress can help keep us on our toes. But above average stress can negatively affect us.

There are generally three kinds of stress to be aware of: physiological, environmental and psychological stress.

Physiological stress affects our physical bodies, as a result of fatigue, strenuous exercise, changing time zones, unhealthy eating, illness and other physical ailments.

Environmental stress is from factors such as being too hot or too cold, loud noises, and/or not having enough oxygen. Psychological stress is the result of divorce, arguments, financial troubles or a change in work schedule.

Make sure you analyze your stress level before flying, and develop positive coping mechanisms to deal with them. Exercise, yoga, meditation, calming teas, or sometimes just getting some extra sleep can do a world of good.

Like drinking and driving, flying and alcohol don’t mix. Studies on the effects of alcohol on pilot performance showed “progressive increases in the number and seriousness of procedural errors with increasing levels of alcohol.”

FAA rule FAR 91.17 clearly prohibits any pilot from flying who has consumed alcohol within 8 hours of flying, while under the influence of alcohol, or with a blood alcohol content of .04 percent or greater. The FAA recommends that pilots ideally wait at least 24 hours after drinking to get behind the controls.

Even if you follow the "8 hours from bottle to throttle" rule, remember that hangovers are dangerous in the cockpit, and cause flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, problems focusing, and dizziness.

Although there are FAA regulations and company policies for pilots to help manage fatigue, fatigue affects everyone differently, so it’s important that each individual pilot knows their own body and what they need to do to feel great before flying. Do you need 8 hours of sleep or can you function well on less? Make sure you eat well and get good nutrition. Know your own limitations, and prepare with them in mind.

While pilots are generally calm, stoic people, emotions can sometimes get the best of anyone, and it’s important to assess your feelings before flying an aircraft. Is there anything bothering or upsetting you? Are you feeling angry, impatient, sad, or depressed?

Keep in mind that negative emotions can lie under the surface, only to manifest later under stress or pressure. Taking an emotional inventory may be uncomfortable for some pilots, but it is an important part of an overall picture of our health.

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