May 27, 2019

Preparedness involves not just adding emergency equipment, but obtaining training in its use and establishing procedures for successful employment. Capt. Leroy Cook provides suggestions to develop a true survival kit

Having your company’s airplane adequately prepared for its next trip requires more than simply replacing the soda cans and running the vacuum cleaner over the carpet. We need to put some thought into where we’re going and what might be needed to handle any difficulties arising from the journey. Business aircraft are amazingly capable machines – in the absence of vital system failures. Planning for these unforeseen eventualities is called “preparedness”.

It would be foolish, for instance, to attempt an ocean crossing without carrying a life raft and personal floatation gear, even in the best equipped and maintained airplane. The ultimate emergency, a ditching at sea, is not to be entirely ignored, but to be prepared for. Such preparedness involves not just adding emergency equipment, but obtaining training in its use and establishing procedures for successful employment.

Taking precautions does not have to involve extensive over-water operations. There are a lot of regions spanned by our business airplanes that might leave us in compromising situations if we’re not prepared. A diversion to something less than a welcoming location can require adapting, hopefully doing so by using equipment carried for just such eventualities. A warm parka and boots, even carried in the storage compartment with the engine covers, can literally be life savers if you wind up in Bergen or Oslo during a winter event.

Could You Walk Out?

One of my wisest older instructors told me “Never fly over country you aren’t prepared to walk out of.” He had noted my stylish Jodhpur boots and light jacket as I boarded the aircraft for a training trip in snowshoe season. While we don’t expect to have to put an airplane full of executives down in the bush, his point is well taken. Preparedness is simply part of piloting.

Such simple attention to detail also means you should make sure that all is in readiness for the passengers. A friend of mine was a captain for a major airline that was suffering from penny-pinching management during tough economic times. He was about to depart on a trans-Atlantic flight and, in checking the aircraft, he found that there were only three blankets in the overhead bins; the provisioning list called for ten, so obviously someone had taken the rest for another airplane. Exercising his command authority, he refused to accept the Boeing until more blankets were rounded up; he knew the aircraft would become cold-soaked on the night flight across the ocean, and service to the customers was still one of his priorities.

Going beyond mere comfort, of course, safety is the goal of preparedness. Safety, comfort and efficiency should always be ranked in that order. Making the schedule at the cost of a rough ride won’t impress most of our passengers, and descending below the minimum approach altitude in an attempt to get to the destination is a sign of poor safety management. Being prepared for a timely change in altitude or diversion to an alternate should start well in advance.

Backing Up the EFB

Electronic Flight Bags are a convenient means of having all the charts, checklists and manuals in the cockpit, ready for reference at a touch. However, what’s your plan for a backup in the event of an EFB failure? Do you have enough hard-copy equivalents within reach to keep the flight under safe control? Do you have a second EFB, charged up and ready for use, in case your primary one goes on the blink? Having access to the material needed to load changes into the FMS is important enough that you need to be prepared with a backup.

Have you ever considered having a stand-alone attitude/heading reference system (AHRS) linked to an EFB tablet? Such devices are now available for mounting on the glareshield, the ultimate redundancy if the PFD goes irreversibly blank in IMC. You will have to hand-fly the crude iPad presentation, but it would beat winding up as a contribution to the Loss-Of-Control-Inflight statistics.

Onboard Spares

There is a limit to the parts and tools it’s possible to carry in the aircraft’s storage locker, but when you’re in a remote spot of the world and an engine igniter box or starter/generator goes bad, you would be glad to have given up baggage space for such an item. True, pilots are not engineers, but having a little training in swapping out a faulty component is just good preparedness.

Having a good relationship with your Director of Maintenance can help you select just what items need to be kept on the aircraft, perhaps with additional spares added when flying to particularly distant locations. An extra crew member, in the person of a flight engineer/mechanic, is an even better idea if there is a seat available.


Communication is perhaps the tool we will most desire when caught in a crisis situation, even an unplanned deviation with no immediate risk. There are many options we can avail ourselves of, given today’s satellite-based technology; Bendix/King has a stand-alone Inmarsat-based AeroWave text-and-track locator that’s available for only US$449. A number of these subscription-based satellite messengers are available, some with two-way texting capability. A simple EPIRB rescue beacon or a personal locator beacon are excellent additions to an onboard survival kit.

If you want to develop a true survival kit, consider the Ten Essentials that mountaineering groups suggest:

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent
  5. Knife: perhaps part of a multi-tool
  6. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter (can be a light emergency tent)
  8. Extra food 
  9. Extra water 
  10. Extra clothes

These items are obviously for extreme emergency situations, but are food for thought.

Preparedness is a state of mind, something to be reflected on when doing our trip planning. We should always play the what-if game as we study the upcoming route and take adequate precautions for unplanned eventualities.