"The more I use tools like an autopilot or in-flight weather, the more I hesitate to depart on a flight without them. How do I know which items are essential and what I can depart without?" — Bob A.
“Pilots of twin-engine and turbine aircraft use a Minimum Equipment List, or MEL, to help them determine whether an aircraft is ready for a particular flight. To help me assess the technology that I need for a flight, I created what I call my Minimum Technology List, or MTL.
My MTL is a flow chart. But you could use a checklist or other decision aid to verify that the resources you need to meet your personal minimums are available for a particular flight.
Suppose I’m planning a long day IFR cross-country flight that includes a couple of three-hour legs. I’ll be above or between cloud layers most of the way, and the landings at my destinations will require flying instrument approaches, although the weather is comfortably above minimums.
For this type of trip, my MTL requires that the following equipment and resources be available:
- A functioning autopilot that can fly coupled approaches.
- IFR-approved GPS with current database.
- A current EFB app, like ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot, for planning and briefing the trip and displaying charts and related information in the cockpit, both for the intended destinations and alternates.
- FIS-B or SiriusXM weather displays in the panel or available on my EFB.
- Backup device for charts and related information—perhaps a large-format smartphone or a second tablet.
If any of those items isn’t available, I must change the plan. Maybe I can go VFR via a different route. If a good autopilot isn’t in the panel, perhaps I can fly shorter or fewer legs. Or bring along a second pilot to help manage the workload.
Obviously, you can make your own MTL based on your aircraft and the type of trips you fly. But creating an MTL and using it consistently is a good first step in aeronautical decision making.”
Do you consider an autopilot essential for long flights where you're the only pilot?