Identifying Hazards and Mitigating Risk (Part One)

As previously discussed, identifying hazards and associated risk is key to preventing risk and accidents. If a pilot fails to search for risk, it is likely that he or she will neither see it nor appreciate it for what it represents. Unfortunately in aviation, pilots seldom have the opportunity to learn from their small errors in judgment because even small mistakes in aviation are often fatal. In order to identify risk, the use of standard procedures is of great assistance. One guide in the form of a checklist that helps the pilot examine areas of interest in his or her preflight planning is a framework called PAVE. Elements of PAVE are:

Pilot-in-command (PIC)
External pressures


Using PAVE helps to identify risk before departure and assists the pilot’s decision-making process. [Figure 3-1]

Figure 3-1. The PAVE checklist.

Figure 3-1. The PAVE checklist. [click image to enlarge]

With the PAVE checklist, pilots have a simple way to remember each category to examine for risk prior to each flight. Once a pilot identifies the risks of a flight, he or she needs to decide whether the risk or combination of risks can be managed safely and successfully. If not, make the decision to cancel the flight. If the pilot decides to continue with the flight, he or she should develop strategies to mitigate the risks. One way a pilot can control the risks is to set personal minimums for items in each risk category. These are limits unique to that individual pilot’s current level of experience and proficiency.

One of the most important concepts that safe pilots understand is the difference between what is “legal” in terms of the regulations, and what is “smart” or “safe” in terms of pilot experience and proficiency.


P = Pilot in command

The pilot in command (PIC) [Figure 3-2] is one of the risk factors in a flight. The pilot must ask, “Am I ready for this trip?” in terms of experience, currency, physical, and emotional condition.

Figure 3-2. The highest risk for the pilot is self, and requires special introspective analysis.

Figure 3-2. The highest risk for the pilot is self, and requires special introspective analysis.

The Pilot’s Health

One of the best ways pilots can mitigate risk is a self-evaluation to ensure they are in good health. A standardized method used in evaluating health employs the IMSAFE checklist. [Figure 3-3] It can easily and effectively be used to determine physical and mental readiness for flying and provides a good overall assessment of the pilot’s well being.

  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.
Figure 3-3. IMSAFE checklist.

Figure 3-3. IMSAFE checklist.

While the regulations list medical conditions that require grounding, stress is not among them. The pilot should consider the effects of stress on performance.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Emotion—Have I experienced any emotionally upsetting event?

Stress Management

Everyone is stressed to some degree almost all of the time. A certain amount of stress is good since it keeps a person alert and prevents complacency. Effects of stress are cumulative and, if the pilot does not cope with them in an appropriate way, they can eventually add up to an intolerable burden. Performance generally increases with the onset of stress, peaks, and then begins to fall off rapidly as stress levels exceed a person’s ability to cope. The ability to make effective decisions during flight can be impaired by stress. There are two categories of stress—acute and chronic. These are both explained in the Aeromedical Factors of the Aeronautical Knowledge section. Factors referred to as stressors can affect decision-making skills and increase a pilot’s risk of error in the flight deck. [Figure 3-4].

Figure 3-4. System stressors have a profound impact, especially during periods of high workload.

Figure 3-4. System stressors have a profound impact, especially during periods of high workload.

For instance, imagine a cabin door that suddenly opens in flight on a Bonanza climbing through 1,500 feet on a clear sunny day? It may startle the pilot, but the stress would wane when it became apparent that the situation was not a serious hazard. Yet, if the cabin door opened in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), the stress level would be much higher despite little difference between the two scenarios. Therefore, one can conclude that our perception of problems (and the stress they create) is related to the environment in which the problems occur.

Another example is that mechanical problems always seem greater at night, a situation that all pilots have experienced. The key to stress management is to stop, think, and analyze before jumping to a conclusion. There is usually time to think before drawing conclusions.

There are several techniques to help manage the accumulation of life stress, and prevent stress overload. For example, to help reduce stress levels, set aside time for relaxation each day or maintain a program of physical fitness. To prevent stress overload, learn to manage time more effectively to avoid pressures imposed by getting behind schedule and not meeting deadlines.


A = Aircraft

What about the aircraft? What limitations will the aircraft impose upon the trip? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this the right aircraft for the flight?
  • Am I familiar with and current in this aircraft? Aircraft performance figures and the aircraft flight manual (AFM) are based on a new aircraft flown by a professional test pilot, factors to keep in mind while assessing personal and aircraft performance.
  • Is this aircraft equipped for the flight? Instruments? Lights? Are the navigation and communication equipment adequate?
  • Can this aircraft use the runways available for the trip with an adequate margin of safety under the conditions to be flown? For instance, consider an AFM for an aircraft that indicates a maximum demonstrated crosswind component of 15 knots. What does this mean to a pilot? This is the maximum crosswind that the manufacturer’s test pilot demonstrated in the aircraft’s certification. [Figure 3-5]
  • Can this aircraft carry the planned load?
  • Can this aircraft operate with the equipment installed?
  • Does this aircraft have sufficient fuel capacity, with reserves, for trip legs planned?
  • Is the fuel quantity correct? Did I check? (Remember that most aircraft are manufactured to a standard that requires the fuel indicator be accurate when the fuel quantity is full.)

Using the PAVE checklist would help elevate risks that a pilot may face while preparing and conducting a flight. In the case presented in Figure 3-5, the pilot disregarded the risk, failed to properly evaluate its impact upon the mission, or incorrectly perceived the hazard and had an inaccurate perception of his skills and abilities.

Figure 3-5. Considering the crosswind component.

Figure 3-5. Considering the crosswind component.