Setting Standards


Type Clubs Lead By Example with Standard Operating Practices

This article appeared in the May 2019 edition of EAA’s Sport Aviation Magazine. It is used with permission. For other articles by Charlie Precourt, please visit and join for a full subscription.

Imagine a year when there are no fatal accidents in general aviation. Does that seem impossible? The airlines achieved that many years ago, and so can we if we focus on the right things in our safety pro- grams. In fact, the overall trend in GA accident rates over the last few years is very encouraging. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute published its annual GA Accident Scorecard recently (see extras), revealing fatal accidents from 2008 to 2017 are down more than 30 percent. Nevertheless, there were 185 fatal accidents in 2017, so we still have a long way to go. But, there are many developments in safety programs across GA that can keep the trend going.

One such development that I’ve advocated through a couple of type clubs is establishing standard operating practices (SOP). When I flew for both the U.S. Air Force and NASA, we had what we called standard operating procedures. They were the law for our flying. That is, we had to follow them procedurally because the folks that paid our salaries said so. The objective was to ensure we all used the same playbook, minimizing the risk that one of us might develop a bad in-flight habit that increased risk to the organization.

One way to think about SOPs is to recognize the difference between procedure and technique. For example, you have to follow the manufacturer’s pilot’s operating handbook (procedure)where it says to lower the landing gear before landing. If you don’t, you are in for a bad day. However, it does not tell you exactly when to lower the gear; that’s left to technique.

In the middle, between procedure and technique, is a best practice. In this example, lowering the gear just before the final approach fix is a “standard practice.” It is the generally accepted “best” place to lower the gear. In GA, however, aircraft owners don’t generally answer to a boss, so I prefer the term practices instead of procedures.

However, whether or not someone is paying us to fly, following best practices just makes sense. If you have a good set of practices, they enable you to do things the same way every time, leaving lots of brain cells to manage the unusual, the things that might go wrong. The safest approach to accomplishing a flight task is one that leverages consistency. On the other hand, if you are inconsistent, doing flight tasks differently each time, you’ll always be struggling to keep up. So, in my involvement with the safety committees for both the Malibu Mirage Owners and Pilots Association and the Citation Jet Pilots Association, there has been broad acceptance of recently developed standard operating practices.

The good news in this development is that a culture of safety is growing broadly across most sectors of GA through these type club initiatives. Perhaps more importantly, there is much to learn from each other about the effectiveness of these various initiatives. EAA has seen a four-year drop of 47 percent in fatal accidents among homebuilts! So, there must be something right going on there — a major focus on appropriate transition training before flying a new homebuilt (as a standard operating practice) is paying off.

So, what is covered in the SOPs these type clubs have developed? The following outlines the kinds of standard practices other type clubs have set up and represent SOPs you could establish for yourself regardless of the type of aircraft you fly. You just have to fill in the blanks for your particular type and commit to sticking to them in your flying. These are notional and are practices (not mandatory procedures). They don’t tell you how to fly your aircraft; they give you things to think about when you do. If you take a bit of time to set your own SOPs and then stick with them, you’ll be a far safer pilot. Here are some ideas:

Duty Day

Set the maximum number of hours of flight time during a calendar day and rest hours off between flying days. One example is a maximum of eight hours in the air and a minimum of 10 hours off until flying again.


Establish best practices for what you will carry as cargo. One example is no lithium batteries in the baggage compartment.

Flight Planning and Preparation

What are your limitations for the types of flight you’ll take on? Consider SOPs such as designating a suitable alternate airport for all flights. Another might be for first flights after significant maintenance, such as no flight at night or in IMC until a day-VMC functional check flight has been done.

Runway Field Length Guidelines

Establish an appropriate minimum field length for your aircraft and commit to not going into shorter fields. Consider sea level operations and high-altitude airports as well.

Surface Operations

What should be your maximum wind conditions for taxi, takeoff, or landing? Maximum acceptable crosswinds on landing? Set them in your SOP and stick to them.

En Route

Consider establishing practices like no non-operationally necessary conversation below 10,000 feet MSL, during any segment of an approach procedure, or during the last 1,000 feet before leveloff during climb or descent. Also consider declaring “minimum fuel” when the fuel state becomes less than fuel to destination plus 45 minutes at current burn, even if flying day VFR.

Approach and Landing

Consider establishing personal minimums in your SOPs for things like visual approaches. Perhaps use a 1,500-foot ceiling and 3 miles’ visibility for day and 5 miles for night, even though these exceed the FAA’s requirements.

Pilot Limitations, Training, & Currency

FAR Part 91 rules allow us to fly with pretty marginal levels of currency. Consider setting your own SOP to something more appropriate for the kind of aircraft you fly and the kind of flying you do in it. For example, consider these ideas as SOPs:

  • If you have less than 100 hours of time-in-type or have not flown at least 15 hours as pilot in command in the last 90 days, use a minimum planned fuel reserve of one hour.
  • Also, if flying IFR in this situation, use a minimum visibility for takeoff of 1 mile.
  • On instrument approaches, increase the published minimums by one- half mile visibility and add 200 feet to the decision altitude or minimum descent altitude.
  • Perform landings at a weight that allows a full stop in 60 percent of available runway length.
  • Consider an SOP that establishes you will fly with a CFI on a refresher flight before flying as pilot in command if you have not logged at least an hour of flight time and one takeoff and landing in an aircraft of the same type within the preceding 45 days.

Maneuver Standards

Wherever there are “techniques” associated with things like takeoffs and climbs, cruise, use of autopilot, power settings, and approaches and landings, you can write down your preferred technique as your own SOP. Describe each maneuver in enough detail (speeds, altitudes, power settings, configurations, etc.) to define a routine you will use each time. This ensures you fly consistently each flight and leverage the power of the standard operating practice, that is, to give you the bandwidth you need should you encounter an unexpected event or an emergency.

SOPs are among the exciting concepts underway to make safety programs work for us. Hats off to type clubs like MMOPA and CJP and many others that are taking the initiative. But even if you’re not in this kind of group, you can still set up your own SOPs. Let’s all look forward to our first year in GA without a fatal accident — and let’s make it soon!
Fly safe!

Charlie Precourt is a former NASA chief astronaut, space shuttle commander, and Air Force test pilot. He built a VariEze, owns a Piper JetPROP, and is a member of the EAA board of directors.

Checking The Stall Warning Horn


When a pilot first glances at the title of this article, the first thought that probably goes through that pilot’s head is, well that’s easy.

And it is, if you are flying a high wing Cessna. On other airplanes, there are a few tricks to checking the stall warning horn. If you get them wrong, you’re liable to get a bill from your maintenance shop for an hour of labor for a problem they couldn’t duplicate.

Cirrus SR22

Let’s start with the Cirrus. On the pre-FIKI Cirrus aircraft, there was a small little hole in the wing that contained a diaphragm. That diaphragm sensed a change in airflow at a certain angle of attack just below the critical angle of attack and set off the stall warning horn. Unfortunately, the only way to check that is to suck on the hole during pre-flight.

I don’t. I verify the hole is clear and that’s about it.

On the FIKI Cirrus aircraft, there is actually a stall warning vane. It looks like a high wing Cessna vane, but if you turn the batteries on and try and get it to come on during your light and pitot heat check, nada.

Here’s the trick, and the checklist doesn’t do a good job of describing this.

  • Turn on the Avionics Master
  • Turn on the speaker
  • Put the flaps to full
  • Then move the stall warning vane and you’ll hear the horn

The speaker and the Avionics Master are so you can actually hear the horn (if you had the headset on while you were doing this, the speaker would be unnecessary). The flaps have to be full because the pitch attitude for the critical angle of attack is lower with the flaps down, so the horn goes off when at a different angle. You then don’t have to use as much force to push the vane.

Piper PA46

The early -310P Malibus are pretty simple and straight forward. Move the vane, get the horn.

In the -350P, you can’t get the horn to come on by moving the vane. So, Piper put a stall test button that’s hidden underneath the upper left side of the instrument panel. Push that to test the horn. On the G1000 PA46, it is located directly above the PFD. On the Avidyne, it’s below and to the left of the pilot’s yoke.

Testing the stall warning horn is a very important part of pre-flight. A pilot needs to know if the aircraft is close to a stall. The advent of Angle of Attack indicators in small, GA aircraft, have added a greater awareness to the angle of attack during all phases of flight to avoid those stall spins.

If the stall warning horn goes off or the AOA shows yellow, lower that nose immediately.

Stephanie Mertz Joins Texas Top Aviation


Texas Top Aviation has added a new member to our instructing team. Stephanie Mertz was hired in March 2019 and will be specializing in G1000 & Instrument instruction.

Stephanie graduated from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas with a degree in Aeronautical Science, earning her commercial single and multi ratings while there. She began her aviation career in Ontario, California flying a Pilatus PC-12 for charter and medical trips. While operating the PC-12, she gained valuable experience flying all over the US and Mexico.

In 2013, Stephanie moved back to East Texas with her husband where she worked as a contract pilot flying a variety of Citations as well as a Falcon 10. A few years later, she became involved in her local Ninety-Nines chapter and joined their mentorship program.

After earning her CFI, CFII, and MEI, Stephanie returned to her alma mater to pass on her flying passions to college students through flight instructing. After a year of teaching at LeTourneau, she and her husband, with their first baby in tow, moved to the Austin area. Now she is instructing with Texas Top Aviation while acting as a mentor for other women working on achieving their flying dreams.

Need To Breath


I got a call today from a friend asking me about oxygen requirements.  That got my brain pondering about the different items the FAA would like all pilots to know. I did a little refreshing and found several other tidbits directly from the FAA that I thought worth sharing. No matter what you’re flying, I think these apply to all of us. 

First off, what are our general oxygen requirements? If you jump on over to the FAR’s and take a look at 91.211 you’ll see: 

1. At cabin pressure altitudes above 12,500ft MSL to 14,000ft MSL, pilots
required to use oxygen unless the segment is less than 30 minutes of flight.

2. At cabin pressure altitudes above 14,000ft MSL, the crew is required to use

3. At cabin pressure altitudes above 15,000ft MSL, each occupant must be
provided the use of oxygen. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to use it.

Things get a little more in depth when you get to pressurized aircraft.

These requirements are also listed in 91.211: 

1. If you’re flying above Flight Level 250, a 10 minute supply of oxygen is
required for each person onboard.

2. If you’re flying above Flight Level 350-410, and one pilot leaves their seat, the other pilot will be required to wear an oxygen mask, unless both seats are equipped with quick-donning oxygen masks.

There are three basic components to any oxygen system in an aircraft:  the storage system, the delivery system, and the mask or cannula. First, there are several types of storage systems. 

Gaseous aviators breathing oxygen is the first. This is the standard green tank that everyone is familiar with. There are two types of tanks. Either the high- pressure with 1800-2200 psi or the low pressure tank with 400-450 psi. The major issue with these and General Aviation aircraft is weight. Some of these tanks can get bulky and heavy and therefore don’t work for everyone. 

Liquid aviators breathing oxygen or LOX is another form of storage. The major advantage of LOX is that it has a 900 to 1 expansion ratio, meaning that 1 liter of liquid oxygen can be expanded into 900 gaseous liters of Aviators Breathing Oxygen. The disadvantages of LOX are they are extremely volatile and have to be stored at -197F. If it comes in contact with exposed skin, severe frost bite can occur. 

Sodium chlorate candles or oxygen generators have a weight advantage like LOX. They’re essentially a canister that when activated mix sodium chloride and iron powder and produce oxygen. They general have a 600 to 1 expansion ratio, which goes back to the weight savings. However, once these are started they are very hard to stop. Another disadvantage is these devices produce a fair amount of heat, so proper precautions need to be taken. 

Next are the delivery systems. The main systems are Continuous Flow, Diluter Demand, and Pressure Demand. Continuous Flow, is exactly as it sounds. The oxygen is allowed to flow continuously from the tank to the user. The benefits of continuous flow are you don’t need a complicated mask or regulator. The downside to this system is since it continuously pumps oxygen, you’re wasting oxygen when you exhale. Most of continuous flow systems are used on aircraft that generally fly below 28,000 feet. 

Diluter Demand was designed to fix the negative of the Continuous Flow systems. Diluter Demand only sends oxygen to the user when the user inhales. The system also allows cabin air to be introduced in, sending the perfect mixture of oxygen to the user when needed. These systems are very efficient and generally tend to be used up to 40,000 feet. 

Pressure Demand is designed to essentially “over inflate” the users lungs. This will basically pressurize the the users lugs and allow the user to fly above 40,000 feet. This is needed at flights above FL400 because 100% oxygen without positive pressure will not suffice. 

The final portion of the oxygen system is the mask or cannula. Nasal cannulas generally are more comfortable and are regulated to 18,000 feet service altitude. Masks come in a couple different variants. From re-breathers to quick-donning, most masks accomplish the same task with a few small differences. Quick-donning must be able to be put on within five seconds and are rated up to FL400. 

Since that was a lot of information, what does all of it mean to you? Most fair weather flyers will never run into any of this. However, the high performance owner/operator will run into oxygen use situations a fair amount. Taking the family up to Colorado on a ski trip, jumping up to 12,500 feet to get above some weather, or flying above 5,000 feet at night on a long xc are all situations where you may want to have oxygen on board. 

If you are planning on doing any of this type of flying or are currently doing these types of flights, training is a must. If you’ve never been in an altitude chamber, I would highly recommend it. In college, I went with a group to Oklahoma City to the FAA’s headquarters where they hold a class on Hypoxia and High Altitude flying. It’s very informative to be in the chamber as it simulates being oxygen deprived. You get to see how you’ll react and what kind of symptoms you’ll have when in a loss of oxygen situation. Each person has different symptoms, so it’s important to see how you will react.

It’s also good to fly with an experienced instructor. Finding an instructor who will allow you to learn in a safe environment is worth its weight in gold. 

Ryne Bergren is currently a First Officer with Mesa Airlines in the CRJ 900. Ryne has experience in many different areas of aviation, from corporate to airlines to teaching to ferrying across the Atlantic Ocean. His passion is for all things that travel across the big blue sky.

Fly Away Destination: Lajitas Golf Resort


Talk about star treatment.  The Lajitas Golf Resort rolled out the red carpet for the 2019 Texas Top Aviation Lajitas Fly In.  I had been to Lajitas twice before; once in July when it was hot, miserable and bumpy.  The second time was the week before our Fly In.  Both times, everyone from the airport folks to the bus drivers to the front desk and restaurant staff were top notch.  It made for a very pleasurable experience.

If you haven’t been out to Lajitas (or don’t even know where it is) and you’re a pilot (you don’t even have to play golf), you have missed a sure gem.  Lajitas is positioned on the southern tip of the Big Bend area of Texas, right on the Rio Grande river.  Lajitas has great lodging with several different room options from big to small, an excellent restaurant for 3 square a day (and even a bakery for sweets, coffee, and breakfast tacos in the mornings), and a 5 star golf course in Black Jack Crossing.

Why is this all relevant to us aviators?  Lajitas has it’s own private airport, 89TE.  Complete with a 5,500 foot asphalt runway, VFR conditions most of the year, and reasonable fuel prices, Lajitas is the pilot’s gateway to the resort and the entire Big Bend area.  If you wait until the fall, a brand new, 7,000 foot concrete runway should be completed and an IFR approach should be available.  An AWOS is in the works too.

The resort and airport are so far south, radar and radio coverage with Albuquerque Center is pretty poor below about 15,000 feet, and non-existent below 10,000 feet.  This isn’t a big concern as any airplanes in the area should be on 122.9 and the airport manager will make contact with you, give you a weather report, and assign a runway.

Once you are on the ground, there will be a resort bus waiting to whisk you and all your friends to the resort for your getaway.

The 2019 Texas Top Aviation Lajitas Fly In was a big hit.  We had 7 airplanes total:  5 Cirrus SR22s, 1 Piper Matrix, and 1 Citation M2.  There were 15 attendees total, including 13 golfers.  Everyone raved about the resort and the golf course.  The only hiccup in the weekend was the cold front that blasted through on Friday afternoon, kicking up a lot of dust.  Golfing on Saturday was windy too, but Sunday morning was absolutely perfect.

Thanks again to the folks at Lajitas for the star treatment!

Interested in participating in the next Texas Top Aviation Fly In?  Contact Us or Sign Up for Our Newsletter and we will make sure you find out about the next one so you don’t miss out!