Two defining elements of ADM are hazard and risk. Hazard is a real or perceived condition, event, or circumstance that a pilot encounters. When faced with a hazard, the pilot makes an assessment of that hazard based upon various factors. The pilot assigns a value to the potential impact of the hazard, which qualifies the pilot’s assessment of the hazard—risk.


Therefore, risk is an assessment of the single or cumulative hazard facing a pilot; however, different pilots see hazards differently. For example, the pilot arrives to preflight and discovers a small, blunt type nick in the leading edge at the middle of the aircraft’s prop. Since the aircraft is parked on the tarmac, the nick was probably caused by another aircraft’s prop wash blowing some type of debris into the propeller. The nick is the hazard (a present condition). The risk is prop fracture if the engine is operated with damage to a prop blade.

The seasoned pilot may see the nick as a low risk. He realizes this type of nick diffuses stress over a large area, is located in the strongest portion of the propeller, and based on experience; he does not expect it to propagate a crack that can lead to high risk problems. He does not cancel his flight.

The inexperienced pilot may see the nick as a high risk factor because he is unsure of the affect the nick will have on the operation of the prop, and he has been told that damage to a prop could cause a catastrophic failure. This assessment leads him to cancel his flight.

Therefore, elements or factors affecting individuals are different and profoundly impact decision-making. These are called human factors and can transcend education, experience, health, physiological aspects, etc.

Another example of risk assessment was the flight of a Beechcraft King Air equipped with deicing and anti-icing. The pilot deliberately flew into moderate to severe icing conditions while ducking under cloud cover. A prudent pilot would assess the risk as high and beyond the capabilities of the aircraft, yet this pilot did the opposite. Why did the pilot take this action?

Past experience prompted the action. The pilot had successfully flown into these conditions repeatedly although the icing conditions were previously forecast 2,000 feet above the surface. This time, the conditions were forecast from the surface. Since the pilot was in a hurry and failed to factor in the difference between the forecast altitudes, he assigned a low risk to the hazard and took a chance. He and the passengers died from a poor risk assessment of the situation.


Hazardous Attitudes and Antidotes

Being fit to fly depends on more than just a pilot’s physical condition and recent experience. For example, attitude affects the quality of decisions. Attitude is a motivational predisposition to respond to people, situations, or events in a given manner. Studies have identified five hazardous attitudes that can interfere with the ability to make sound decisions and exercise authority properly: anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, macho, and resignation. [Figure 2-4]

Figure 2-4. The five hazardous attitudes identified through past and contemporary study.

Figure 2-4. The five hazardous attitudes identified through past and contemporary study. [click image to enlarge]

Hazardous attitudes contribute to poor pilot judgment but can be effectively counteracted by redirecting the hazardous attitude so that correct action can be taken. Recognition of hazardous thoughts is the first step toward neutralizing them. After recognizing a thought as hazardous, the pilot should label it as hazardous, then state the corresponding antidote. Antidotes should be memorized for each of the hazardous attitudes so they automatically come to mind when needed.


During each flight, the single pilot makes many decisions under hazardous conditions. To fly safely, the pilot needs to assess the degree of risk and determine the best course of action to mitigate the risk.

Assessing Risk

For the single pilot, assessing risk is not as simple as it sounds. For example, the pilot acts as his or her own quality control in making decisions. If a fatigued pilot who has flown 16 hours is asked if he or she is too tired to continue flying, the answer may be “no.” Most pilots are goal oriented and when asked to accept a flight, there is a tendency to deny personal limitations while adding weight to issues not germane to the mission. For example, pilots of helicopter emergency services (EMS) have been known (more than other groups) to make flight decisions that add significant weight to the patient’s welfare. These pilots add weight to intangible factors (the patient in this case) and fail to appropriately quantify actual hazards, such as fatigue or weather, when making flight decisions. The single pilot who has no other crew member for consultation must wrestle with the intangible factors that draw one into a hazardous position. Therefore, he or she has a greater vulnerability than a full crew.

Examining National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports and other accident research can help a pilot learn to assess risk more effectively. For example, the accident rate during night visual flight rules (VFR) decreases by nearly 50 percent once a pilot obtains 100 hours and continues to decrease until the 1,000 hour level. The data suggest that for the first 500 hours, pilots flying VFR at night might want to establish higher personal limitations than are required by the regulations and, if applicable, apply instrument flying skills in this environment.

Several risk assessment models are available to assist in the process of assessing risk. The models, all taking slightly different approaches, seek a common goal of assessing risk in an objective manner. The most basic tool is the risk matrix. [Figure 2-5] It assesses two items: the likelihood of an event occurring and the consequence of that event.

Figure 2-5. This risk matrix can be used for almost any operation by assigning likelihood and consequence. In the case presented, the pilot assigned a likelihood of occasional and the severity as catastrophic. As one can see, this falls in the high risk area.

Figure 2-5. This risk matrix can be used for almost any operation
by assigning likelihood and consequence. In the case presented,
the pilot assigned a likelihood of occasional and the severity as
catastrophic. As one can see, this falls in the high risk area.

Likelihood of an Event

Likelihood is nothing more than taking a situation and determining the probability of its occurrence. It is rated as probable, occasional, remote, or improbable. For example, a pilot is flying from point A to point B (50 miles) in marginal visual flight rules (MVFR) conditions. The likelihood of encountering potential instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) is the first question the pilot needs to answer. The experiences of other pilots, coupled with the forecast, might cause the pilot to assign “occasional” to determine the probability of encountering IMC.

The following are guidelines for making assignments.

  • Probable—an event will occur several times
  • Occasional—an event will probably occur sometime
  • Remote—an event is unlikely to occur, but is possible
  • Improbable—an event is highly unlikely to occur

Severity of an Event

The next element is the severity or consequence of a pilot’s action(s). It can relate to injury and/or damage. If the individual in the example above is not an instrument rated pilot, what are the consequences of him or her encountering inadvertent IMC conditions? In this case, because the pilot is not IFR rated, the consequences are catastrophic. The following are guidelines for this assignment.

  • Catastrophic—results in fatalities, total loss
  • Critical—severe injury, major damage
  • Marginal—minor injury, minor damage
  • Negligible—less than minor injury, less than minor system damage

Simply connecting the two factors as shown in Figure 2-5 indicates the risk is high and the pilot must either not fly or fly only after finding ways to mitigate, eliminate, or control the risk.

Although the matrix in Figure 2-5 provides a general viewpoint of a generic situation, a more comprehensive program can be made that is tailored to a pilot’s flying. [Figure 2-6] This program includes a wide array of aviation-related activities specific to the pilot and assesses health, fatigue, weather, capabilities, etc. The scores are added and the overall score falls into various ranges, with the range representative of actions that a pilot imposes upon himself or herself.

Figure 2-6. Example of a more comprehensive risk assessment program.

Figure 2-6. Example of a more comprehensive risk assessment program. [click image to enlarge]

Mitigating Risk

Risk assessment is only part of the equation. After determining the level of risk, the pilot needs to mitigate the risk. For example, the pilot flying from point A to point B (50 miles) in MVFR conditions has several ways to reduce risk:

  • Wait for the weather to improve to good visual flight rules (VFR) conditions.
  • Take an instrument-rated pilot.
  • Delay the flight.
  • Cancel the flight.
  • Drive.

One of the best ways single pilots can mitigate risk is to use the IMSAFE checklist to determine physical and mental readiness for flying:

  1. Illness—Am I sick? Illness is an obvious pilot risk.
  2. Medication—Am I taking any medicines that might affect my judgment or make me drowsy?
  3. Stress—Am I under psychological pressure from the job? Do I have money, health, or family problems? Stress causes concentration and performance problems. While the regulations list medical conditions that require grounding, stress is not among them. The pilot should consider the effects of stress on performance.
  4. Alcohol—Have I been drinking within 8 hours? Within 24 hours? As little as one ounce of liquor, one bottle of beer, or four ounces of wine can impair flying skills. Alcohol also renders a pilot more susceptible to disorientation and hypoxia.
  5. Fatigue—Am I tired and not adequately rested? Fatigue continues to be one of the most insidious hazards to flight safety, as it may not be apparent to a pilot until serious errors are made. 6. Emotion—Am I emotionally upset?

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