Understanding Risk Management and Personal Minimums while Flying
Risk Management and Personal Minimums – Video Transcript
Hi, and welcome back. Thank you for watching our training video presented by AeroGuard Flight Training Center. I’m Beth Brown and I’m a flight instructor here with AeroGuard at our Deer Valley campus. Today, I’m really excited to talk to you about risk management and personal minimums. This is a favorite topic of mine because it’s something that helps to keep us safe, and we as pilots need to weigh into this before every flight. Aviation itself is not inherently dangerous. However, when we decide to take off in flight we do accept a certain level of risk and we have to make sure that you’re going to be able to land that aircraft safely, and we do that by using risk management prior to taking off.
So, I’m going to talk today about hazards and risks, along with ways to mitigate risk by using the P.A.V.E. checklist and aeronautical decision making, and that’s called ADM. And this is going to help determine if your flight is a go, or no-go decision. And you may have heard of personal minimums. Well, I want to talk about personal minimums today too, and how you can determine what your personal minimums are. And it’s very important to know these minimums, especially when you’re just starting out flight training. And you want to expand these personal minimums as you gain experience throughout your flight training. So, we’ll talk about how to expand personal minimums too.
Risk Vs. Hazard
To begin with, let’s identify what a risk is. Well, it starts with a hazard, and a hazard is something that could lead to a source of danger. And a risk is a hazard that was not controlled or eliminated, so it’s the possibility of danger. We can measure the level of a risk by using the FAA risk analysis matrix, and it measures by severity and likelihood of danger and loss. So, the FAA teaches us to accept no unnecessary risk, meaning if there’s a better option, take it. Even if that means a no-go decision for the day.
I was taught, and I firmly believe, that the decision to go or no-go in flight is going to be one of the most important ones you make. So, after proper pre-flight planning and a risk evaluation by using the PAVE checklist, you’re going to preflight the aircraft and if all of that aligns, then it’s time to have a safe flight. Then you can fly knowing that you have minimal risk involved. When all of those factors start to add up for an unsafe flight, well that’s when you need to use your ADM (aeronautical decision making) and your PIC (pilot in command) and decide to fly another day.
So, here’s an example. Let’s talk about IMC (instrument meteorological conditions). IMC can be hazardous by nature, but we fly IMC all the time safely. The factors that contribute to allowing IMC to become risky, and how you mitigate those risks, well let’s say there’s a newly minted IR (instrument rated) pilot and they have minimal solo time, no actual IMC time, and then we add in low IFR ceilings, and you’re going to be flying in that alone?! Well that presents an unnecessary risk. However, if that person added another pilot on the flight, you’ve now turned what was a single resource management flight into a crew resource management flight. Then let’s say, that pilot that was added. let’s say they’re quite experienced and proficient in flying IMC. Well now you’ve even further mitigated your risk, and you’re able to fly IMC with minimal risk involved.
So, what is the PAVE checklist? Well, it’s a systematic process created to help you determine if you and all the moving elements involved are fit for flight. PAVE stands for the pilot, the aircraft, environmental factors and external pressures, and those are often underestimated. We make a paved matrix by lining up PAVE on the left-hand side, and then along the top you can use these categories: legality, currency and safety.
So, for the pilots, we’ll check their legality, making sure they have required documents and certificates. The currency part would be currency for carrying passengers and have they had a flight review. Then the pilot checks to see if they’re safe by using the “I’m safe” checklist, and that ensures you are fit for flight physically. We follow the same process for the aircraft, checking that it’s legal, again with required documents/certificates, and we want to make sure it’s current with the proper inspections. Then we make sure the aircraft’s safe by conducting a proper pre-flight.
Now, environment. So, for the environment we have some legal pre-flight actions which is to check the weather and the NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) and for IFR flight there’s some more detailed information about runways. For currency, we want to make sure that the charts are updated, your weather is
Updated, and then for the environmental safety, you want to check the METARs and the TAF. You’ll use your weather theory to identify the risks. Now, while there aren’t really any legalities for external pressures, you still use that space to identify the risk of external pressures, and then you come up with ways and solutions to mitigate them.
So, an external pressure is any reason you may feel pressured to fly. Maybe your boss is pushing you, or there’s an event you have to make, you have non-refundable tickets with cancellation fees. So, there’s lots of external pressures you may feel from a variety of sources. For me, it’s as simple as being a dog owner. I may feel forced to take a flight that I’m not fit to take because I’ve got to get home and take care of my dogs. So, I mitigate that risk, or external pressure, by whenever I take a cross-country flight, I have a back-up plan and I make sure that someone can swing by and watch my dogs if I need to stay overnight. It’s as easy as that. That’s how you mitigate risk.
So, let’s talk about those personal minimums and how you can use these in risk management. Personal minimums are your personal predetermined guidelines or limitations, and they assist you in making a personal flight decision. The FAA has this great checklist online that you can print and fill out on a day when you’re not flying and there’s no pressure to fly. And then on any other day, when it may be marginal weather and you don’t know what to do, you can look at your personal minimums and stick to this personal contract you made, so as not to push your limits. Some factors involved are definitely winds and weather minimums, weather limits, ceilings, and even proficiency. So, starting out as a private pilot, I stuck to my personal solo endorsement limitations. For example, my winds were 10 knot crosswind and 15 not total wind. Then the FAA suggests to stay 20 miles away from thunderstorms, so I doubled it. For me, I want to stay 40 miles away from thunderstorms. But then you’re going to gain more experience and as you gain experience, you want to expand these personal minimums so you can gain even more experience and have more allowances when flying.
I don’t personally like to expand too many new things at once. So, let’s say it’s a super windy day and low ceilings, and I don’t have experience in either. Well, I may not go unless I have an instructor or more experienced pilot as crew. But if it were a strong wind day in VFR conditions, that would be a great time to go and expand one minimum at a time. So, if you’re a student pilot, I highly suggest sticking to your minimums, especially on checkride day and solo days. These are NOT times to go big with your minimums. And as you begin to incorporate ADM (aeronautical decision making) and risk management in your piloting, you will discover it begins to become more how you think in your everyday life. It’s using it in non-aviation parts of your life.
Aircraft accidents are rarely a single mistake that is the cause of the accident. Most often, it’s that chain-link effect or a series of marginal mistakes and unidentified risk, and they just compound throughout the flight. So by identifying the risks of your flight by using that PAVE checklist and your personal minimums, you’re going to be able to mitigate these risks and make a good go or no-go decision. Now, I use this type of thinking in all my decision making without even realizing it. If you want to know more about the PAVE matrix in more detail, we’d love to hear about it. Please comment below and feel free to share this video and thanks for watching. Please like and subscribe below. Fly safe!