Monday, September 14, 2009

Seaplane Passenger Briefing

Many of my first-time passengers are nervous about flying in a small plane—add that to the stress of flying in a seaplane. This is usually exacerbated during the pre-flight briefing when I mention the unlikely chance that we could be involved in an accident on the water; but it's also an opportunity to ease that tension with practical information and to mention seaplanes' excellent record in off-airport landings.

The briefing should cover the necessary topics while emphasizing the safety benefits of seaplane flying. On the positive side, seaplanes have several distinct safety advantages over land planes. To begin with, on Lake Martin we have about a 22 mile long runway ahead and 44,000 acres of runway below us almost the entire flight.

We have the option of landing on water or land without serious danger. Because the floats have very strong keels, seaplanes can be landed on grass safely without damage, or even on a concrete runway if necessary with minimal risk to the plane or occupants. All of that stucture below and in front of the passenger compartment helps to keep the plane upright.

Seaplanes fuselages also have structural enhancements to withstand the rigors of the water. The floats provide extra strength in front of and below the cockpit, which protects the occupants in the event of a landing accident.

The most serious issue in an accident is getting out of a sinking airplane. This is why pre-flight briefing is crucial. Passengers must be prepared for that unlikely event—they must be shown how to find and release seat belts, door, and window latches while upside-down, and the should feel free to kick out anything needed for egress. Finally they must know how and when to inflate life jackets.

The life jacket and the briefing—knowing what do and when in an emergency— should actually be a comfort to the wary first-time passenger, giving him/her a sense of security in the face of a new and exciting experience. Our life jackets are CO2 powered, but they must be manually activated and they must be worn. A life jacket in the back of the plane is of little use to someone who might be injured or cannot get access to the plane. At best it is a stressful activity to find the life jacket and actually put it on in the water.

I also like to include the standard type items in a briefing. How to use the seat belts. When the quiet times are. Too many pilots don't let their passengers know that there are times when a sterile and quiet cockpit are important. It won't do to have to tell this passenger to be quiet when you actually need to be concentrating on the task at hand.

Just be sure that you give your passengers a complete and rehersed briefing. You will look professional and make them feel more comfortable

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