Chapter 9. Risk Management

The Plan

The plan can also be called the mission or the task. It contains the basic elements of cross-country planning, weather, route, fuel, publications currency, etc. The plan should be reviewed and updated several times during the course of the flight. A delayed takeoff due to maintenance, fast moving weather, and a short notice temporary flight restriction (TFR) may all radically alter the plan. The plan is not only about the flight plan, but also all the events that surround the flight and allow the pilot to accomplish the mission. The plan is always being updated and modified and is especially responsive to changes in the other four remaining Ps. If for no other reason, the 5P check reminds the pilot that the day’s flight plan is real life and subject to change at any time.

Obviously weather is a huge part of any plan. The addition of real time data link weather information give the advanced avionics pilot a real advantage in inclement weather, but only if the pilot is trained to retrieve, and evaluate the weather in real time without sacrificing situational awareness. And of course, weather information should drive a decision, even if that decision is to continue on the current plan. Pilots of aircraft without datalink weather should get updated weather in flight through an AFSS and/or Flight Watch.

The Plane

Both the plan and the plane are fairly familiar to most pilots. The plane consists of the usual array of mechanical and cosmetic issues that every aircraft pilot, owner, or operator can identify. With the advent of advanced avionics, the plane has expanded to include database currency, automation status, and emergency backup systems that were unknown a few years ago. Much has been written about single-pilot IFR flight both with and without an autopilot. While this is a personal decision, it is just that—a decision. Low IFR in a non-autopilot equipped aircraft may depend on several of the other Ps to be discussed. Pilot proficiency, currency, and fatigue are among them.

The Pilot

Flying, especially when used for business transportation, can expose the pilot to high altitude flying, long distance and endurance, and more challenging weather. An advanced avionics aircraft, simply due to its advanced capabilities can expose a pilot to even more of these stresses. The traditional “IMSAFE” checklist is a good start.

The combination of late night, pilot fatigue, and the effects of sustained flight above 5,000 feet may cause pilots to become less discerning, less critical of information, less decisive, and more compliant and accepting. Just as the most critical portion of the flight approaches (for instance, a night instrument approach in the weather after a 4-hour flight), the pilot’s guard is down the most. The 5P process helps a pilot recognize the physiological situation at the end of the flight before takeoff, and continues to update personal conditions as the flight progresses. Once risks are identified, the pilot is in an infinitely better place to make alternate plans that lessen the effect of these factors and provide a safer solution.

The Passengers

One of the key differences between CRM and SRM is the way passengers interact with the pilot. The pilot of a high capability single-engine aircraft has entered into a very personal relationship with the passengers. In fact, the pilot and passengers sit within an arm’s reach all of the time.

The desire of the passengers to make airline connections or important business meetings enters easily into this pilot’s decision-making loop. Done in a healthy and open way, this can be a positive factor. Consider a flight to Dulles Airport and the passengers, both close friends and business partners, need to get to Washington, D.C., for an important meeting. The weather is VFR all the way to southern Virginia, then turns to low IFR as the pilot approaches Dulles. A pilot employing the 5P approach might consider reserving a rental car at an airport in northern North Carolina or southern Virginia to coincide with a refueling stop. Thus, the passengers have a way to get to Washington, and the pilot has an out to avoid being pressured into continuing the flight if the conditions do not improve.

Passengers can also be pilots. If no one is designated as pilot in command (PIC) and unplanned circumstances arise, the decision-making styles of several self-confident pilots may conflict.

Pilots also need to understand that non-pilots may not understand the level of risk involved in the flight. There is an element of risk in every flight. That is why SRM calls it risk management, not risk elimination. While a pilot may feel comfortable with the risk present in a night IFR flight, the passengers may not. A pilot employing SRM should ensure the passengers are involved in the decision-making and given tasks and duties to keep them busy and involved. If, upon a factual description of the risks present, the passengers decide to buy an airline ticket or rent a car, then a good decision has generally been made. This discussion also allows the pilot to move past what he or she thinks the passengers want to do and find out what they actually want to do. This removes self-induced pressure from the pilot.

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