The IMSAFE for pilots method

Pilot safety is more important than convenience

Pilots know their pre-flight checklist inside and out to ensure the aircraft is safe and ready to fly. Of equal importance is the IMSAFE for pilots method – the pre-flight wellbeing cross-check to determine that the state of their physical and mental health is fit to fly aircraft.

Pilots will learn this mnemonic early in flight training because a multitude of human factors can impair pilot skills and decision making; ones that bear far greater consequences than your average 9-5 job.

Passenger and pilot safety is paramount. Conducting an IMSAFE helps reduce the likelihood of errors by establishing “could I pass a medical exam right now?”

IMSAFE for pilots stands for:

  • Illness:  Are you currently sick or have been recently?
  • Medication: Are you taking prescription or over the counter medications?
  • Stress: Are you experiencing psychological pressure or anxiety? 
  • Alcohol: When did you last consume alcohol? Are you hungover?
  • Fatigue: Are exhausted or overtired? When did you last eat?
  • Emotion: Are you upset about anything? 

Illness

Air travel is a notorious virus transmitter! A valid medical certificate is required for certain conditions, but if you had a cold or flu, you would reschedule your medical until you were feeling better right? 

Please rest if you are sick. Cold, flu and seasonal allergies should not be underestimated. It’s a double-edged sword in how their symptoms in isolation can affect pilot performance, then combined with any medication you take to relieve them. Which bring us to the next check.

Medication

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can be dangerous for a pilot to take before flying. When medication is necessary, discuss it with the aviation medical examiner before you fly. Depending on the drug, it may mean there is a no-fly wait period post-consumption for pilot safety. It’s also worth investigating any long term effects of taking the medication.

Stress

Stress is a regular part of life. However, we can likely agree that pilots have an inherent intensity that comes with the job. It’s above average and prolonged stress that affects us negatively. The kinds of stress to be aware of are:

  • Physiological: the physical body; fatigue, strenuous exercise, injury, changing time zones, diet, illness and physical ailments.
  • Environmental: external factors like temperature, noise, crowds, lighting, air quality.
  • Psychological: triggered by grief, family issues, conflict, financial troubles or a change in work schedule and obligations.

Stress can come from good things happening in our lives too. Getting married, expecting a child, role promotion, a pending holiday, and purchasing a new home. 

Develop positive habits and outlets to manage stress ongoing as part of your IMSAFE for pilots practices. You know the drill! 

Regular exercise Yoga Drink lots of water
Meditation Eat nutritous food Spend time outside
Quality sleep Less screen time Limit alcohol

Talk to trusted family and friends or a professional if you are struggling.

Alcohol

If you drink and fly, you’re an even bigger idiot! There, we said it. Alcohol’s effects are universally understood and consuming alcohol within 8 hours of operating an aircraft is prohibited and can be enforced with random breath testing.

“Eight hours from bottle to throttle” is also a slippery slope. While you might pass a random breath test, hangovers can’t always be cured by a buffet breakfast and Berocca. Nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, dehydration, foggy attention and dizziness are not symptoms you want to fly a plane with. 

There’s the creeper hangover too. Ever woken up fine then several hours later wanting nothing more than a Gatorade, bed and dark room? Resist the tipple 24 hours before you get behind the instruments.

IMSAFE is your personal, pre-flight wellbeing check. Photo: Online Marketing Unsplash

Fatigue

Fatigue is different from being tired. Lifestyle, physical and mental health factors affect fatigue levels in everyone differently. Know your body and understand what it needs to perform optimally and ensure long term fatigue doesn’t set in.

Food is fuel! This means having a proper diet as well as eating regularly. Prolonged hunger can cause drops in blood sugar, affecting your mood, energy and concentration. Schedule in your mealtimes and keep nutritious snacks, confectionery, water or electrolyte drinks on hand.

Emotion

Pilots are encouraged to keep calm and carry on in all situations. However, pilots are human. Take the time to weigh your own personal and professional baggage before you enter the cabin.

  • Is anything bothering or upsetting you? 
  • Are you angry or annoyed?
  • Are you sad, anxious or depressed?

Negative emotions are part of the human experience. It might be something that happened today or an accumulation of things. No one is asking you toughen up and get over it. Taking an emotional inventory can help you compartmentalise it pre-flight and focus on the job. Be sure to seek out a trusted friend or family member, or professional help if you need support.

The IMSAFE for pilots strategy is a fantastic tool for not only seeing where you are at before you fly, but for ongoing wellbeing monitoring and evaluation so you know what’s normal for you. Keeping a diary of your IMSAFE checks can help you manage issues before they become persistent or more significant problems.