Happy New Year!
I'm not big on New Year's resolutions and no, I haven't resolved to hike Kilimanjaro, or take a gourmet cooking course, or learn a new language. I tend to resolve to do things on a daily and weekly basis rather than every year. And who really cares what my resolutions are? I think of resolutions as being a private affair between you and your conscience. If telling others what you resolve to do will help keep you on track, then by all means do it. However you make your resolutions, here are the top five things I hope pilots out there will consider adding to their resolutions.
Self-critique and then clean-up your radio phaseology. Lose the commonly used, and unnecessary words and phrases, like "roger," "with you," "clear of the active," and "any traffic in the area please advise." At the very least, resolve to say "traffic in sight" and "negative contact" in response to ATC's traffic advisories. For some inspiration on how to critique and improve your own radio performance, try reading this excellent post at the Flying Penguin about a controller's quest to identify and break his own undesirable radio communication habits.
Non-Towered Airport Operations
Review this advisory circular and the AIM, then practice what they preach. One example: Entering midfield on downwind at a non-towered airport is often taught to pilots as aiming for the middle of the runway and it's dumb, dumb, dumb. This procedure usually ends up with you entering the downwind leg exactly where other aircraft will be turning crosswind to downwind. Instead, aim for the arrival end of the runway, you'll enter downwind at midfield, and we'll all breathe a little easier.
Handle Your Aircraft with Care
Okay, it might not actually be your aircraft, but you're the pilot-in-command, right? Nothing is more unprofessional than mistreating an aircraft and if you tend to be ham-handed, the first step is recognizing it. Why are you slamming the doors, man-handling the controls, and moving the throttle and mixture like you're playing a video game? None of this is necessary and breaking things will only increase your cost of flying. If the engine needs oil, add some oil. Oil is cheap, engine overhauls and forced landings are expensive. Don't leave your oily paper towel in the seat pocket! You're not doing the next pilot a favor, nobody wants your oily rag, and it's a fire hazard. Walk to the trash can and throw it away. When your flight is completed, take your stuff with you including your trash (and any trash left behind by the last pilot). Instead of hurrying away from the aircraft as if it were about to explode, clean the windshield, install the control lock, lock the doors and secure the plane. You may not think any of this matters, but other pilots are watching and assessing your behavior. Do the right thing and set a good example.
Get a Preflight Briefing
Don't just "get the weather," get an official briefing through FSS, DUAT, DUATS or another approved source. It's not easy, but carefully read the Notices to Airmen that affect your flight. Check for Temporary Flight Restrictions, too. This is an investment in your own safety as well as the safety of your passengers and everyone else.
Get Regular Recurrent Training
One of the safety factors that distinguishes commercial aircraft operations from GA is recurrent training. If it's been a while since you did some training with an instructor, it's time. You can do the Wings program, do practice approaches with another pilot or an instructor, get some instruction in a simulator, or design your own recurrent training program. Recurrent training should also include a review of relevant rules and regulations, aircraft systems, and emergency procedures. If you don't already do so, subscribe to one of the many excellent aviation publications out there. Some, like Callback and the NTSB site are free.
Best wishes to all for a safe, prosperous, and productive New Year!