Flight School: Risk Mitigation

What is one thing not commonly taught to primary students that can help them manage the risks associated with flying?

John King, along with his wife and business partner, Martha, owns King Schools. John and Martha have been learning about and teaching flying full time since 1975. They both have every FAA category and class of rating available for pilots and flight instructors. John and Martha have received numerous awards and were inducted as a couple into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame. He says:

We have all been taught to take great care in our preflight inspection of airplanes, but very few of us have been taught to systematically think in advance about the risks we will encounter during the flight. Yet the vast majority of accidents (85 percent) are caused by a risk management failure — and most of these could have been prevented with some thoughtful consideration before the flight.

I recommend using the PAVE checklist as a tool to think about the risks. It is a way of organizing your thinking by putting the risks into categories.

The letters of PAVE stand for the risks associated with the:
External pressures.

For the Pilot category, you want to think about your readiness for the flight. Are you current in this aircraft and the skills the flight will require — nighttime, instruments? Are you rested and in good physical and mental condition?

For the Aircraft, you will want to think about whether this is the right aircraft for this trip. Does it have sufficient range, load-carrying and altitude capability? Is it properly equipped for, say, nighttime or instruments?

For the enVironment, you will want to think about weather, terrain, airspace and darkness.

And for the External pressures, you will want to consider how to give yourself an “out” from the pressures of meeting someone, attending an event or hard-wiring your own desire to complete what you set out to do. This risk category is the one that makes you tend to ignore all the other risk categories and press on when you shouldn’t. The best way to manage the external pressures is to do so before you take off. Take these pressures off yourself in advance and your trip will be a lot safer and more fun.

Tim Wrigley is an assistant professor at the University of Central Missouri (UCM) in Warrensburg, Missouri. Tim holds an ATP single-engine and multiengine land certificate and CFI, CFI-I and MEI ratings. Tim is teaching graduate-level safety management systems (SMS) at UCM and is a pilot instructor for the B-737 800NG type rating. He says:

Hazard identification (ground and air) is not commonly taught to primary students. A hazard is a variable, and variables are dynamic. A good example would be operating a C-172 in near freezing temperatures where moisture may be present. This could obviously be a hazard for icing. How do you determine the level of risk? As the temperature decreases and the moisture content increases, the level of risk would increase. You can teach the students to assign a value of risk on a scale from one to 10. In the icing case, a clear, warm day would have a value of one while moist air at zero degrees Celsius would have a value of 10.

The values would also be different based on a pilot’s experience level. Any hazard would present a different level of risk to an airline pilot compared with a student pilot with 10 hours of flight time. For example, for most pilots, 10 knots of wind may have a very low risk number, while the value for a low-time student pilot could be high.

Once each identified hazard has been assigned a risk number, the numbers are summed up on a form to help evaluate the severity of the situation. This form should be an individual document based on the current conditions, the airplane being flown and the experience level of the pilot/pilots. If the risk number is too high, the flight will be unacceptable and discontinued. The student could also use this information to develop a risk matrix — a mathematical approach to making a go or no-go decision (think of a standard graph with an X and Y axis).

It is important to have a proactive approach to safety and create a “culture of safety” in your syllabus. If you have multiple students you can assemble them in a safety committee and appoint one of them to chair the meeting. This creates a feeling of participation, and the students can help develop the hazard identification and reporting form, and participate in other safety-related policy creation.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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