Aviation Safety Letter 3/2003

COPA Corner - How do we do risk management?

by Adam Hunt, Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA)

In my last article I suggested that putting an emphasis on "safety" is misplaced - if by safe you mean "without risk." There is nothing "safe" about flying, and as long as we keep focusing on "being safe," we are not going to reduce accidents. I concluded that what we should be thinking about is "managing risks."

So how do you do "risk management" when you are one pilot flying one aircraft? It really isn't that hard. There are lots of models that will tell you how to do this - they all really give you the same kind of tools. Pilots are familiar with checklists, so that approach is an easy one to use. This is the risk management preflight checklist:

  • Possible hazards – identify
  • Risks - assess
  • Unacceptable risks - reduce
  • Equipment and resources – get anything that you need to reduce risks
  • Remaining acceptable risks - identify and accept
  • Post flight - assess and debrief

Here is a little more detail on each of these items:

Possible hazards:  These are all things that can affect your flight. What is broken on the aircraft or suspect? What hazards were identified in the weather briefing - fog, thunderstorms, high winds? How are you feeling - hung over, less than 100%, tired, sick?

Risks:  These can be anything that the hazards-list flags as notable - weather moving in about the time that you will get to your destination, near dark.

How severe are the consequences? They could be:

  • Catastrophic – death, loss of aircraft
  • Critical - severe injury, serious damage to aircraft
  • Marginal - minor injury, minor damage to aircraft
  • Negligible – no injury

How likely is it that the event will occur?

  • Frequent – likely to occur
  • Probable - will occur several times in your flying career
  • Occasional - likely to occur at least once in your flying career
  • Remote – unlikely but possible
  • Improbable - very unlikely, assumed that it won't happen

The next step is to plot it on this table:

  Catastrophic Critical Marginal Negligible
Frequent Unacceptable Unacceptable Unacceptable Consider carefully
Probable Unacceptable Unacceptable Undesirable Consider carefully
Occasional Unacceptable Undesirable Undesirable Acceptable
Remote Undesirable Undesirable Consider carefully Acceptable
Improbable Consider carefully Consider carefully Consider carefully Acceptable

Unacceptable risks:  Do not fly. Take steps to reduce these risks to a level acceptable to you. That may mean waiting until the next day for daylight or better weather, getting maintenance action, or getting a good night’s sleep.

Undesirable risks:  Only fly under circumstances where no other options are available to reduce the risks.

Consider carefully:  Does this flight really have to be flown, or could it be delayed until circumstances are better?

Acceptable:  Note the risks and proceed. The risks may be important to consider in your enroute decision-making.

Equipment and resources:  Is there anything or anyone that could help you reduce the risk? Perhaps you need to rent a life raft or bring along a co-pilot?

Remaining acceptable risks:  The acceptable risks that are left require identifying. Keep these things in mind while you conduct your flight - they should influence enroute decision-making. If the headwind is more than expected, and you are required to leave the landing gear extended due to a maintenance problem, then the risks of that approaching weather system and flying after nightfall will need to be reevaluated.

Post flight:  How did you do on today's flight? Did you only just get away with it? Were you lucky that the headwind abated before you ran out of gas? Always evaluate your risk management - that way, with practice, you can get better at it!

Remember "superior use of luck" can't be relied upon every time! Good risk management doesn't take all the risks out of flying. As long as we choose to fly, there will be risks. Good pilots are good risk managers. If you use all the tools at your disposal you can reduce those risks to an acceptable level, complete your flight, and live to fly again another day!

More information about COPA is available at http://www.copanational.org/

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