PPL question from Mel PPL, Midlands

Should I use a checklist when I fly? I was talking to some student pilots in the airfield bar and I noticed that those who learn in the other club on the airfield are taught without using checklists whereas in our school the instructors insist on the use of checklists. Who is correct?  Mel  (new PPL 15 hrs P1)

Hi Mel this is a little bit subjective and a matter of an opinion. My opinion is that a checklist is an excellent instructional tool and it can prevent mistakes if;

1. It is authoritative, practical and sensible.

2. It is used carefully and correctly.

However in flight, with light, simple, single pilot aircraft, using a checklist is a distraction and just not practical. A good example being in the circuit where you want EYES OUTSIDE as much as possible. For stages of flight like this a simple mnemonic acts as an aide memoire. An example would be BUMPF for a pre-landing check  (Do NOT call it a DOWNWIND CHECK!)

Where the checklist is particularly useful is on the ground.

What you need to do is ensure you have covered all the relevant checks before departure and there are several ways of doing this.

1.    Just check everything you can find in the cockpit!

2.    Scan the cockpit in an orderly, logical fashion, say left to right, up and down.

3.    Just use your memory

4.    Use a mnemonic

5.    Use a checklist.

6.    To hell with the checks lets start it and go!

I have seen all 6 ways used and I have seen mistakes made with all 6 ways. I favour a belts and braces method using a dual system with a ordered logical circular check backed up with a check list.

I would just add at this stage that for student instruction, in my opinion, a checklist should be used and indeed I would deem a school or club that doesn’t use one as being rather unprofessional but thats just my opinion. However having said that it is good to learn the pre take off ‘vital actions’ by mnemonic and you can use a mnemonic that can be used in any light aircraft. See the other separate question on ‘before take off checks’.

There are two ways of using a checklist, you can use it as a ‘check and do’, or you can use it as a ‘do and check’. Being a belt and braces pilot I am a ‘do and check’ fan, the checklist being used as backup.

As I am all for a double check of anything my preference would be get in (see, ‘Checks to do when arriving at the aircraft’) and do a logical ordered check from left to right and up and down or a circular check across the cockpit and then back up these actions with the checklist. Same at the holding point I would do a logical order check across the cockpit and then back it up with a checklist. I always like to see a student coming up to skills test being able to have a mnemonic that he/she can use on any aircraft because after qualifying you may go and hire an aircraft without a checklist being available or from an organisation that doesn’t believe in check lists.

My ex-partner regularly came home without all the shopping we needed because she would not write a list. It’s the same with checklists in an aircraft if you follow the list you will come home with the bacon, so to speak!

Just a few words about checklists;

Some school/club produced checklists tend to be a encyclopedic nightmares which have you constantly criss crossing your hands around the cockpit in an illogical order and covering everything from ensuring your licence is up to date, to the window is clean. I am sure there are ones out there which ask you to check you have your trousers done up properly as well but lets get real, there has to be a happy medium with check lists otherwise they become unworkable and therefore pointless.

There is no point going from one side of the cockpit to the other, checks should ideally follow a logical flow, left to right & and or an up & down pattern whenever possible.

Some organisations continual add things to check lists, called ‘Christmas treeing’ in the RAF. You end up with a checklist that needs two people to carry it to the aircraft. Unfortunately an over enthusiastic checklist has the opposite safety effect and soon gets stowed away in a locker never to be seen again.

When you use a check list use your thumb to underline and release each item as its done, if you get interrupted you will not loose your place and you also lessen the risk of missing a line out. Being interrupted while using the checklist by ATC or a passenger, or any distraction is the most common cause of missing an item.

It’s also a good idea to check a checklist against the manufacturers flight manual or equivalent document because that is the definitive version. Some school checklists are the products of limited experience and big egos that masquerade as authoritative documents.

At the end of the day a checklist is a tool, an aid to safe flight. You must decide whether or not to use one but whatever method you use my advice is always adopt TWO independent checks such as outlined above and a checklist can be one of these.


Questions or responses to askcaptainjon At

Your input always welcomed, I do not know all the answers and any pilot who thinks he does is safer on the ground and off airfield!



  1. I use the checklist from WALK AROUND through through to PRE TAKE OFF checklist. My INFLIGHT checks and PRE LANDING checks are done from memory as I am focusing on flying the aircraft. After landing is performed from memory (FLAPS UP, LANDING LIGHT OFF, TRANSPONDER TO STBY). SHUTDOWN list is done by checklist.

    All my checklists are spoken out verbally so that the instructor is aware of my intentions and thinking at all times.

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