Lessons from My Flight Instructor – Risk Management for Pilots

It is difficult to teach judgment. Some say any amount of training risk management for pilots cannot teach them to change his or her attitude towards flying.

In the column on ‘Double Trouble at Denver’, John explained a trip in the early 70s on how to manage risk.

By reading the experience of two separate airplanes caught in a snowstorm with mechanical problems can teach pilots on averting mistakes and practice the habit of risk management.

Another columnist expressed that he has doubts that risk management can be tested and taught. Risk management is something that is confused by many people with judgment and attitude.

Components of Risk Management for Pilots

There are two main components to learn and practice in the process of risk management.

The first component is to maintain situational awareness by thinking about risks systematically. The second component is to come out with mitigation strategies to avoid risks that are thought of.

In the flight to Denver, the pilots were plain ‘fat, dumb and happy’ as they approached the airport from the east. They didn’t had any concerns as the weather was forecasted to be good.

Suddenly, things turned from good to worse with lot of snow and ice. The pilots were caught in a fickle system known as upslope condition, something which they never heard of before. It took them by surprise.

The pilots were aware of counterclockwise circulation around lows and orographic lift in the Northern Hemisphere.

They were, however, not aware that in eastern Colorado a low may combine with rising terrain to form orographic lift along with abundant ice and snow.

Most Surprised People on Earth

Most of the pilots are the most surprised people on Earth when they get into trouble during flying. The problem is that they don’t know what the problem is.

In many cases there is no systematic and formal training on how to ascertain and avert risk. The best way for student pilots to form the habit of maintaining situational awareness is at the time of scenario-based training. It is during this time they form the habit of active risk identification.

Much of the knowledge in aviation, such as counterclockwise flow in the Northern Hemisphere around a low and orographic lift, is theoretical till the time we get in real life situation.

In flight instruction we learn to develop the habit of inspecting our aircraft meticulously before taking to the air, use the prescribed checklist properly, and fasten our seat belts and much more.

Just like all these, we should get into the habit of risk management, which once formed into habit will help us in flying, all the time.

Risk Management for Pilots – Memory Aids and Mnemonics

Pilots can use memory aids or mnemonics such as CIGAR TIP, GUMP and ‘Black Square – you’re there’ to form these habits.

Mnemonics have been formed for risk management as well. For example PAVE – which categorize risk into Pilot, Aircraft, environment and External / internal pressures.

And, C-CARE – Changes, Consequences, Alternatives, Reality and External / internal pressures.

There are relatively simple cures for ‘fat, dumb and happy’ status of pilots. Form habit patterns and tools that will enable you to maintain situational awareness and identify risks.

The solution for risk diminishing factor is more complicated. Many pilots resist reducing the risks. Many pilots faced drastic consequences as they continued even though they faced one big risk after another.

It may leave us wondering as to what they were thinking or why they accepted risks, particularly when it was not acceptable to everyone else?

The offending pilot may be called ‘stupid’, ‘idiot’ or ‘arrogant’, but it does not help explain their behavior or provide adequate explanation.

The solution rests in the last alphabet ‘E’ which stands for external / internal pressure for the pilot in trouble, in both C-CARE and PAVE.

Risk Management for Pilots – Fun vs. Meeting Obligations

The amount of effect these pressures have differs from one pilot to the other. However, it can be broadly classified into two groups.

The first group is a small one and comprises of thrill-seekers / showoff / big-shots. These people step into risk knowingly as they only seek fun from flying. They know they are taking risk with the assumption that they can control it.

These pilots want to establish that they are superior and better by taking risks. They have the tendency of enjoying risk and they keep seeking till they or their passengers pay a heavy price.

A pilot lost his pilot license twice. First time for vibrating the Santa Monica Pier and the second time for giving ride to public for a price. The third he paid the price with his life. He and his passengers wanted to slide the aircraft tires on water to create a water-skiing effect. All of them met an unfortunate end.

These overconfident and immature pilots get motivated after watching professionals perform such tricks. They do not understand that it has been a result of years of practice and training.

Almost everyone is included in the second group. Every pilot decided to become one as he or she wanted to be around challenges for a long time to come.

Almost every student pilot at some point during training must have said, ‘You know, I am not sure if I am able to do this.’ We went through theoretical classes and appeared for the test. We learned and practiced to master certain skills.

Risk Management for Pilots – Learn to Say No

Our instructor signed us for solo and we took our life in the palm of our hand thousands of feet above the ground. With perseverance and proper presentation, we finally managed to become certified pilots.

Pilots are and should be different from normal people. They should be different from people who are hard-wired to complete the task at hand come what may. They should be different from people who want to prove that they are good at almost everything.

A pilot should be one who can find out risk and should not hesitate in changing plans to diminish it.

A physician cum Episcopalian priest died during solo cross country. The FBO begged him to come and talk but he turned around for the second leg, even though the weather was deteriorating. He was scheduled to give speech to a big crowd and for that he wanted to get back in time.

The owner of a ski resort left the resort in his Cardinal in the evening. He was in a hurry as he had a meeting to attend in the town. During the flight he become disoriented and slammed the plane in the ground.

The pilots who were flying to Denver also had a time limitation. They were taking risk not to show off. They were bent to complete the task that they were scheduled for and didn’t want to accept anything that stops them from flying.

The goal-oriented and show-off pilots have one thing in common, knowingly or un-knowingly they are taking risk. The first priority of these people is to achieve their goals. To fly safely is lower down the priority list.

The need for avoiding risk applies specially to general aviation pilots as they have no rigid schedules as commercial airliners. GA pilots need to recognize and accept their limitations and of their plane.

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