PAVE Checklist Explained

By Pilot Institute
Posted on September 28, 2023 - 6 minute read

There are so many factors that determine if the flight should be made or if it should be canceled. 

So how does the pilot determine the go/no-go decision for the flight?

Pilots use a PAVE checklist to categorize information and aid their aeronautical decision-making.

The PAVE checklist is an acronym that represents the pilot, aircraft, environment, and external pressures.

By going through each category, the pilot can evaluate the risks to the flight and make the necessary decisions.

What Is the PAVE Checklist?

A diagram of the PAVE checklist.

The PAVE checklist categorizes risks before each flight to determine the go/no-go decision.

Most of the items on the checklist are legal requirements as established in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), but some are just recommendations.

  • P, for pilot, is to ensure the pilot has the required documents, physical and mental state, and currency.
  • A, for aircraft, is to ensure the aircraft has the required and current documents and equipment on board.
  • V, for environment, is to ensure the pilot is aware of the weather.
  • E, for external pressures, is to ensure the pilot recognizes the factors that may add risk to the flight.


A pilot with a headache.

The first letter of the PAVE checklist represents the pilot. 

A lot of attention goes into ensuring the aircraft is ready and in good condition for the flight, but we cannot neglect the pilot’s condition and recency of experience as well.

Besides the medical evaluation required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a self-evaluation by the pilot prior to the flight is also required to identify any risks.


The self-evaluation is done using an acronym – IMSAFE.

As the name implies, the factors listed on IMSAFE enable the pilot to identify any risks to the operation of the flight.

If the pilot should fail any items of the IMSAFE checklist, a no-go decision should be considered.

The pilot uses the IMSAFE checklist to ensure both the physical and mental state is in good condition for the flight.

The IMSAFE checklist consists of:

  • I – Illness
  • M – Medication
  • S – Stress
  • A – Alcohol
  • F – Fatigue
  • E – Emotions


Besides health, there is a matter of recent pilot experience, also known as currency.

Ensuring the pilot has met the required recency of experience is important as there are legal requirements regarding currency.

To fly as a private pilot, the pilot must have completed a Biennial Flight Review (BFR) or have taken a proficiency check or practical test within the last 24 calendar months.

In order to carry passengers in the day, the pilot must have completed three takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days in the same aircraft category, class, and type.

Pilots who wish to carry passengers at night must fulfill the requirement much like the day requirements. But the three takeoffs and landings must be to a full stop and must be accomplished between one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.

Currency Versus Proficiency

While it is important to maintain the legally required currency for flying and carrying passengers, a smart and safe pilot would fly more than the required amount of hours and landings.

While currency is what is legally required, a pilot may not be proficient if they only meet the minimum legal requirements.

A smart and safe pilot would fly more than the legal requirements and constantly look to improve their techniques and skills.


A mechanic working on an airplane.

The second letter of the PAVE checklist is A, for aircraft. 

It is important that the aircraft is legally authorized to fly and, more importantly, have the required equipment on board for the flight.

Weight and balance calculations, for example, are also vital aspects of the flight that should be reviewed and considered in this section of the PAVE checklist.


An acronym pilots use to ensure the aircraft has completed all necessary inspections is AV1ATE. 

The AV1ATE acronym covers the following for inspections:

  • Annual Inspection
  • VOR
  • 100 Hour
  • Altimeter & Static System
  • Transponder
  • ELT

Equipment Requirements (91.205)

The FAR also has a list of equipment required by an aircraft to operate under various conditions. 

These conditions include Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flights by day and night, as well as Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flights.

The full equipment list is found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 14 CFR § 91.205

Pilots use the acronym ATOMATO FLAMES, FLAPS, and GRABCARDD to simplify the list from the CFR.

For day VFR flights, the acronym ATOMATO FLAMES is used.

  • A – Airspeed Indicator
  • T – Tachometer
  • O- Oil Pressure Gauge
  • M – Manifold Pressure Gauge
  • A – Altimeter
  • T – Temperature Gauge
  • O – Oil Temperature Gauge
  • F – Fuel Gauge
  • L – Landing Gear Position Indicator
  • A – Anti-Collision Lights
  • M – Magnetic Compass
  • E – Emergency Location Transmitter (ELT)
  • S – Safety Belts

For VFR flight at night, we include the following acronym, FLAPS, to the day VFR flight list:

  • F – Fuses
  • L – Landing Light
  • A – Anti-Collision Lights
  • P – Position Lights
  • S – Source of Power

For IFR flights, regardless of the time of day, we add GRABCARDD to the VFR list:

  • G – Generator/Alternator
  • R – Radio
  • A – Attitude Indicator
  • B – Ball (Inclinometer)
  • C – Clock 
  • A – Adjustable Altimeter
  • R – Rate of Turn Indicator
  • D – Directional Gyro (Heading Indicator)
  • D – DME (If Flying Above FL240)

Beyond the list of items required by the FAA, the pilot should reference the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or the Airplane Flying Manual (AFM) to see if there’s any more equipment needed to fly.

For example, for a Cessna 172S, the POH has a Kinds of Operations Equipment List (KOEL) in Section 2. 

A screenshot of section 2-13 of the C172S POH.

The KOEL lists the equipment needed for flight in the day or night, in VFR or IFR conditions.


An airplane flying above the clouds.

The environment in which the flight is conducted is critical to the safety of the flight.

Factors such as weather, terrain, NOTAMs, and time of flight are just some of the aspects of the environment that the pilot must factor into the safety of the flight.

All pilots are aware that weather is one of the most important factors to consider for the safety of a flight. 

Knowing the winds, storm activity, freezing levels, and turbulence are some of the important pieces of weather information that a pilot should use in their decision-making.

Airspace and procedural restrictions are also important and must be considered during this stage of the PAVE checklist.

Pilots can consider using tools such as the Aviation Weather Center, Leidos Flight Service, or their Electronic Flight Bags to brief themselves on the weather and NOTAMs.

External Pressures

Passengers boarding an airplane.

External pressures are factors that are outside of the pilot’s control. 

An external pressure that is cited amongst pilots who have been in close calls and accidents is commonly referred to as “get-there-itis”. 

Get-there-itis is a reason that causes the pilot to make a rash decision about whether to continue the flight and not cancel.

Causes of the pilot wanting to get to a destination, regardless of the risks involved, include events or people that are waiting at the destination or the need to get home.

Examples of other external pressures include:

  • A passenger the pilot does not want to disappoint.
  • A desire to demonstrate pilot qualifications or impress someone.

These stressors can lead the pilot to disregard risks such as pilot fatigue, faulty equipment, or poor weather.

Accepting the fact that delays or diversions are expected and having a buffer time factored in will help the pilot reduce the external pressure caused by such events.


While we have covered many factors within the PAVE checklist, there are so many more that can be both recognized and categorized into the PAVE checklist. 

Try to identify other factors to incorporate in your personal PAVE checklist to aid your aeronautical decision-making.

Try to incorporate scenario-based training to enhance your decision-making skills while using the PAVE checklist.

As the adage goes, it is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the sky than being in the sky wishing you were on the ground.

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