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Precautionary Landings

My name is Rob Chipman and I’m a realtor and pilot based in Vancouver, BC. I AM NOT A FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR AND I AM NOT OFFERING FLIGHT INSTRUCTION! I am sharing my study notes and other things I’ve learned while getting my education as a pilot. You’re welcome to make use of this information, but do not treat it as expert advice.

Precautionary Landings

When the conditions at a landing area are unfamiliar because the landing is an unplanned one or because no advance data is available, you have to do a precautionary landing.

This can occur when you fly to remote, off airport or unserviced airstrips as part of a planned flight, or if you experience a medical emergency, low fuel or reduced oil pressure, or when the weather gets too bad for you to continue to fly safely.

For any backcountry strip, or perhaps a non-dedicated strip like a farmers field, a moose meadow or possibly a gravel bar, a fly over inspection is necessary, and often the only approach to obtain the requisite information to land.

The same approach applies if you have to find a landing place for an unplanned landing. If you check the tanks at departure, confirm they’re full, but within an hour see that the fuel gauges are registering empty, you have to land. In most cases you can’t determine whether the gauge is faulty or the tank is leaking from your seat in the cockpit. Still, if you have sufficient power and the airplane is behaving normally you can’t consider it an emergency. The engine hasn’t failed, there isn’t a massive loss of power, and there is no imminent danger to life or machine. An unplanned landing is a precaution. The same applies to low oil pressure, a mechanical malfunction that is not an emergency, or a medical issue.

Weather is another example of something that can lead to a precautionary landing. If you depart an airport and the weather at your destination deteriorates below VFR minima you can turn around and return to where you began, provided you have the fuel and the weather behind you is still acceptable. However, it might be better to put the airplane on the ground and wait the weather out. Again, this is a precautionary landing.

Use the following precautionary landing procedure if any of the following things occur:

Fuel is low/oil pressure is low;
Medical issues;
If weather has deteriorated below VFR minima;
The conditions at the landing area are unknown;

Low fuel/oil pressure, bad weather and medical issues are Pan Pan situations, but are not Mayday scenarios. You do not need to make a Pan Pan call if you are making a planned landing at a strip of uncertain quality. Another difference between forced landings and precautionary landings is that forced landings are only executed in the case of an engine failure or the massive loss of power.

This procedure has 8 steps:

1) Begin at the regular circuit height of 1000 feet AGL;

2) Fly a normal downwing leg to inspect the landing zone to decide if a lower pass is safe; this is called the high inspection. Keep an eye out for any hazards like trees, towers, power poles or anything else tha may effect closer inspection. Scan for cues to wind velocity and direction;

3) Transition to the low inspection, which is flown parallel to the final approach in a regular circuit. The idea is to fly a path that allows you to inspect the proposed landing area. Establish the airplane in trimmed, level flight at 60 knots with flaps at 10 degrees. Fly as low as you safely can while scanning the proposed landing strip. Look for hazards like standing water, animals, fences, wires, vegetation, ditches or vehicles. At 60 knots 1 second equals 100 ft. You’ll be looking for 13-14 seconds at a minimum with most light airplanes;

4) Return to circuit pattern by executing an overshoot, applying full power and climbing back to 1000 ft AGL. Get back into a normal circuit pattern in anticipation of landing;
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5) Make your radio call advising who you are, whereyou are and what you’re doing;

6) Give a passenger briefing;

7) Do the regular pre- landing checks;.

(The past three steps are referred to as the 3 ps – Pan Pan , passenger brief, pre-landing checks )

8) Land the airplane. Whether it is a short field, soft field or combination of the two will be dependent on the conditions. Don’t forget to take any obstacles that can’t be avoided into account

I really enjoy flying, real estate and the Chilcotin.  My company is Coronet Realty Ltd., located at 3582 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, V5K 2A7. I have a C-150L that I own with two other pilots, based out of Pitt Meadows. Do not hesitate to contact me by email if I can help you do anything, especially if its likely to be interesting or concerns selling remote property in British Columbia.


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