Accident case study: Create your personal minimums checklist for flying

  • By Dan Sobczak, July 2018
  • Editor's note: this content does not constitute flight instruction. Consult a certified flight instructor in your area for proper flight instruction.


Jason Miller created 'The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast', one of the most recognized and well respected aviation podcasts in the world. Photo courtesy of The Finer Points of Aviation. Used with permission.
  • Jason Miller created 'The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast', one of the most recognized and well respected aviation podcasts in the world. Photo courtesy of The Finer Points of Aviation. Used with permission.

One of the most recognized and well respected aviation podcasts in the world is Jason Miller's The Finer Points.

Earlier this year, Miller recorded an interesting podcast titled 'Zero / Zero, Some Game - Aviation Podcast', in which he discusses an accident where three top engineers from Tesla Motors died when they attempted to take off in 0/0 conditions from Palo Alto airport.

In his accident case study, Miller explains the concept of IFR takeoff minimums -- strategies that professional pilots use to stay safe, and how those same strategies can (and should, as he recommends) apply to general aviation pilots.

Miller refers to a statistic where -- over the last 30 years -- commercial operators decreased their fatal accident rate by nearly 90%. Miller credits that decrease in part to a simple three-step process that commercial operators use:

1. Examine accidents that are occurring.

2. Develop redundant procedures to prevent those accidents from happening again.

3. Force compliance with those procedures.


If you haven't listened to that episode, listen to it now by using the embedded player below. The podcast is well worth 10 minutes of your time.





How to define your personal minimums


When examining these commercial operators, Miller notes that Part 121 companies force their pilots to wait until they have one statute mile of visibility before taking off (for aircraft with two engines or less).

Conversely, Part 135 companies force their pilots to wait until the weather lifts to above the minimums for the approach into the airport from which they are departing.

A screenshot from Flight Chain App showing the accident in which three people died when they attempted to take off in 0/0 conditions. While it is a short accident chain with only a couple of pilot-related links as determined by the NTSB, it could be avoided by future pilots when applying the recommendation Miller discusses in his podcast 'Zero / Zero, Some Game - Aviation Podcast.'
  • A screenshot from Flight Chain App showing the accident in which three people died when they attempted to take off in 0/0 conditions. While it is a short accident chain with only a couple of pilot-related links as determined by the NTSB, it could be avoided by future pilots when applying the recommendation Miller discusses in his podcast 'Zero / Zero, Some Game - Aviation Podcast.'

As a Part 91 general aviation operator, Miller recommends using the Part 135 minimums, and that -- most importantly -- you force your own compliance with your set of personal minimums that you create ahead of time.

So how do you create your personal minimums for IFR or VFR flying?

The FAA suggests that you think of personal minimums as the human factors equivalent of reserve fuel, which should provide a solid safety buffer between the skills required for the specific flight, and the skills available to you through your training, experience, currency and proficiency.

Both the FAA and AOPA have created a personal minimums worksheet that you can use to define your own minimums:

  • Download this personal minimums FAA worksheet

  • Download this personal minimums VFR worksheet from AOPA

  • Download this personal minimums IFR worksheet from AOPA


    Where to go to learn more


    Whether you're flying as a Part 121 operator, Part 135 operator, or Part 91 operator, Miller urges you to convince yourself that you should trust the lessons learned from the failures of others, and adhere strictly to the minimums you establish.

    For more flying tips, visit Jason Miller's The Finer Points, where you can listen to his podcast episodes and watch his YouTube videos for more tips to fly safe.

  • Subscribe to 'The Finer Points - Aviation Podcast' on iTunes

  • Subscribe to 'The Finer Points' videos on YouTube





    • Dan Sobczak is the founder of www.FlightChainApp.com, a mobile app that helps pilots learn from accident chains. Dan received his private pilot certificate in 2003.

  • Flight Chain App - NTSB Aviation Accident Reports - Helping pilots learn from accident chains

    Helping pilots learn from accident chains.

    An easier way to read NTSB aviation accident reports.