Open-Door Policy


Almost anyone who’s flown a passenger has at least one open-door or open-canopy story. Here are two of mine.

The plan was for a full day of flying, and we were getting an early start. My right front seat passenger had done this before, so I more or less delegated securing the cabin door to him. We took off, and immediately realized the door’s upper latch hadn’t engaged. During my pre-takeoff checks, I usually reach up and push against the door’s trailing side to ensure the latch was engaged. I didn’t this time.

For whatever reason, probably a combination of embarrassment and wanting something longer, I didn’t want to just make a circuit in the pattern and land, but turned on course with the intent of landing at a nearby airport to fix the problem. Which we did. We rolled out, taxied to the ramp, parked and set the brake. Only then did I stop flying the airplane to worry about the door. Opening it, shutting it and turning the door handle over-center secured it. I released the brakes, taxied out and took off, only 10 or so minutes behind schedule.

On another flight years earlier, I had something similar happen with a first-time flyer at the door. This time, I did check it before takeoff, but was flying one of those mid-1970s Cessna 150s, in which worn door latches and unbalanced main wheels combined to produce a 10-hour MTBDO (mean time between door openings). It was my turn.

In both cases, the door was of little concern. I noted the problem (door’s open), began coming up with a plan to fix it (make a safe, unhurried landing), flew the airplane without regard to the door (it’s only impact was a noisier cabin), landed and stopped the airplane. Only then did I divert my attention from flying to closing the door.

Prevention is the best policy: check it before takeoff. But if it does pop open like that, don’t try to close it until the airplane’s on the ground.

— J. Sullivan

A Special Note
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