It’s a basic task for pilots—and a fundamental part of flight safety.

The US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) has reviewed 123 fatal accidents that occurred between 2009 and 2013 to find common causal factors and develop recommendations for reducing those risks. The resulting recommendations for safety improvements are called Helicopter Safety Enhancements (H-SE) (learn more at

One of these enhancements is H-SE #28, Helicopter Final Walk-Around and Security of External Cargo. This enhancement resulted from several fatal accidents where the pilots’ failure to conduct a proper preflight inspection and walk-around were causal factors. You would think that this is Helicopter 101, but pilots are still killing themselves and others by not properly addressing this task.

H-SE #28 derives directly from 14 CFR 91.7, which states, “The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight.” An adequate preflight inspection and final walk-around are key to fulfilling this responsibility. Postflight inspection can also help to identify issues prior to the next flight.

Better guidance on how and why to conduct a proper preflight and walk-around, as well as increased attention to their importance, may mitigate such events in the future. Therefore, the USHST, with the help of helicopter operators, safety professionals, aircraft manufacturers, and the HAI Safety Working Group, has developed guidance to reinforce the basic pilot skills used in conducting these inspections.

The list is not all inclusive, and each recommendation can be expanded per pilot preference. Going back to basics may sound elementary, but refocusing on these basic tasks will help reduce helicopter accidents and save lives.

Recommended Practices for Helicopter Preflight Inspection, Final Walk-Around, and Postflight Inspection

No Rushing. Allow adequate time to conduct mission planning and preflight inspections. Don’t rush these flight-critical tasks.

No Distractions. Enforce a “no distraction” policy during preflight inspections. This includes unnecessary conversations, eating or drinking, or using technology devices for purposes not directly related to the preflight inspection.

No Interruptions. Avoid interruptions during a preflight inspection. If interrupted during a preflight, before resuming the inspection, go back at least two steps before the interruption occurred. If you can’t recall where that is, start from the beginning.

Formal Checklist. Refer to a printed or electronic checklist during preflight inspections, noting steps completed or items of concern.

Preflight Kit. Prepare and make available a preflight kit that includes all materials needed to ensure a complete inspection, including flashlights, gloves, printed or electronic copies of the preflight inspection checklist, and any other tools or materials needed to assess the aircraft, including work stands or ladders. Include the preflight kit in your tool control program.

FRAT. Update your flight risk assessment tool (FRAT) score to reflect any items of concern discovered during the preflight inspection. Operators, add a section to your FRAT that prompts pilots to include preflight items.

Pilot Briefing. The pilot in command, not just ground-operation personnel, must conduct a preflight briefing for passengers.

Solid Footing. Watch out when stepping on aircraft surfaces, even nonskid ones, particularly when they’re wet. Always use two points of contact.

Secure Aircraft. Conduct a thorough assessment of all readily accessible areas during preflight inspections. Ensure  that panels, cargo, and passenger doors are secured. During adverse weather or environmental conditions, take extra care to ensure these checks are completed.

Rotor Clearance. Ensure that both main and tail rotor covers and tie-downs are removed and securely stowed. Verify that blade-tip paths are clear of potential obstacles. Before you manually move a rotor blade, provide an audible alert so that other personnel can maintain a safe distance.

Ground-Handling Wheels. Remove and securely stow ground-handling wheels.

Fuel Cap. Always check that fuel caps are securely fastened.

Fuel Level. Use a trusted method, such as a dipstick, to visually verify your fuel level. Don’t use the aircraft fuel gauge as your sole method of verifying fuel levels.

Red Flag. Place a clear warning indicator, such as a red cover, over the cyclic or seat of the aircraft awaiting a preflight inspection. Pilots may remove it only after completing a thorough preflight and final walk-around inspection. Verify that flight control covers or other warning devices don’t indicate a grounding condition.

Flight Controls. Verify that all red flags are removed and that flight controls are in the correct position and setting before starting the aircraft. Pay particular attention to the throttle setting to prevent a hot start.

Personal Items. Ensure that all personnel secure headgear and other personal items when on the flight line.

Final Walk-around. After completing the preflight inspection, conduct a final walk-around before getting into the aircraft. A pilot or trained crew member should always be the last person to get into the aircraft.

Final Rotor Check. Before starting the aircraft, perform a final visual confirmation that the main and tail rotors are untied and tip paths are clear of any obstacles.

Postflight Inspection. Conduct a postflight inspection of aircraft, looking for fluids, unusual wear, or damage to aircraft.

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Keith M. Cianfrani, MAS, CISM, CFI

Keith M. Cianfrani, MAS, CISM, CFI

Keith Cianfrani is a retired US Army aviator, commercial pilot, and the owner of Aviation Safety Consultants, LLC. Keith is an auditor for the IS-BAO and HAI-APS programs and a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators. He also works with the FAA and HAI on helicopter flight-data monitoring research.