This article originated as an email from Jeff Norris, president of the AIR Inc. insurance agency, to his clients who own turbine skydiving aircraft.
I've insured skydiving airplanes for 25 years. In that time, I've paid for about 50 heavily damaged or totaled turbine skydiving aircraft. That's a lot of bent iron … unnecessarily bent iron. If you wonder why your insurance costs are so high, let me say it again: 50 heavily damaged or destroyed airplanes!
There seems to be an insidious common thread in 85 percent of these accidents, and that’s the lack of following a checklist. If the pilots had just completed their checklist items, they wouldn't have needed cranes to come and pick their crumpled airplanes off the ground.
It's not low-time pilots who are wrecking airplanes, either; one pilot who totaled a King Air had 20,000 hours. It's also not the lack of training, as most aircraft owners do an excellent job training their pilots. The problem is pilots who can't be bothered to pull out a checklist and complete its critical items. In other words, complacency!
I am a swimmer, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up to practice only to realize that I’ve forgotten my water bottle or ID, or returned home to realize that I had forgotten to shut the garage door or turn on the alarm. So, I made a departure checklist of essential items and hung it on my refrigerator. It may seem like a dumb thing to do, but since putting up the checklist and religiously consulting it before leaving, I have never forgotten any of these items.
Now, I am just going to work out … I am not operating a $1 million-plus Caravan or $500,000 King Air that is doing 40 takeoffs and landings a day! Yet pilots of these aircraft still forget simple items that are readily available to them on a pre-printed checklist (although it’s likely buried in the pocket on the back of the pilot's seat).
Here are examples of aircraft that were totaled or heavily damaged by pilots who could have prevented the incidents if they had rejected complacency and simply consulted their checklists:
- 25 King Airs totaled—landed with the gear up
- Three Twin Otters ($2 million-plus aircraft) heavily damaged—hydraulic pump circuit breaker not in prior to engine start
- One PAC-750 totaled—takeoff flaps set incorrectly
- One Twin Otter, Caravan, King Air and Cessna 207 totaled—failure to check enroute weather before a ferry flight
- Two Caravans heavily damaged ($500,00 each)—incorrect final-approach speed and flap settings
- One PAC-750 onboard fire—failure to follow the start-up procedures
- One Caravan destroyed—failure to follow emergency landing procedures
- One King Air destroyed— failure to remove the control lock as required during preflight inspection
These are not all the skydiving aircraft accidents that stemmed from pilots not following a checklist, but I think it paints a pretty clear picture of how important checklists are. As an Airline Transport Pilot and flight instructor, I understand how repetitive and boring flying skydivers can be. I get it. But how hard is it to write down important items and attach the list to the instrument panel? Our insurance costs can be a quarter of what they are now if pilots always use a checklist. Something for everyone to consider.
About the Author
Jeff Norris, C-11731, has been the owner and president of the AIR Inc. insurance agency since 1995. His company insures many of the turbine jump aircraft that are currently flying skydivers. Jeff has a master’s degree in insurance, holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and is an experienced skydiver and jump pilot.