Door Opening In-Flight

In most instances, the occurrence of an inadvertent door opening is not of great concern to the safety of a flight, but rather, the pilot’s reaction at the moment the incident happens. A door opening in flight may be accompanied by a sudden loud noise, sustained noise level, and possible vibration or buffeting. If a pilot allows himself or herself to become distracted to the point where attention is focused on the open door rather than maintaining control of the airplane, loss of control may result even though disruption of airflow by the door is minimal.

In the event of an inadvertent door opening in flight or on takeoff, the pilot should adhere to the following.

  • Concentrate on flying the airplane. Particularly in light single and twin-engine airplanes; a cabin door that opens in flight seldom if ever compromises the airplane’s ability to fly. There may be some handling effects, such as roll and/or yaw, but in most instances these can be easily overcome.
  • If the door opens after lift-off, do not rush to land. Climb to normal traffic pattern altitude, fly a normal traffic pattern, and make a normal landing.
  • Do not release the seat belt and shoulder harness in an attempt to reach the door. Leave the door alone. Land as soon as practicable, and close the door once safely on the ground.
  • Remember that most doors do not stay wide open. They usually bang open and then settle partly closed. A slip towards the door may cause it to open wider; a slip away from the door may push it closed.
  • Do not panic. Try to ignore the unfamiliar noise and vibration. Also, do not rush. Attempting to get the airplane on the ground as quickly as possible may result in steep turns at low altitude.
  • Complete all items on the landing checklist.
  • Remember that accidents are almost never caused by an open door. Rather, an open door accident is caused by the pilot’s distraction or failure to maintain control of the airplane.