Risk management is a formalized way of dealing with hazards. It is the logical process of weighing the potential cost of risks from hazards against the possible benefits of allowing those risks from hazards to stand unmitigated. It is a decision-making process designed to identify hazards systematically, assess the degree of risk, and determine the best course of action. Once risks are identified, they must be assessed. The risk assessment determines the degree of risk (negligible, low, medium, or high) and whether the degree of risk is worth the outcome of the planned activity. If the degree of risk is “acceptable,” the planned activity may then be undertaken. Once the planned activity is started, consideration must then be given whether to continue. Pilots must have preplanned, viable alternatives available in the event the original flight cannot be accomplished as planned.
Two defining elements of risk management are hazard and risk.
- A hazard is a present condition, event, object, or circumstance that could lead to or contribute to an unplanned or undesired event, such as an accident. It is a source of danger. For example, binding in the antitorque pedals represents a hazard.
- Risk is the future impact of a hazard that is not controlled or eliminated. It is the possibility of loss or injury. The level of risk is measured by the number of people or resources affected (exposure), the extent of possible loss (severity), and the likelihood of loss (probability).
A hazard can be a real or perceived condition, event, or circumstance that a pilot encounters. Learning how to identify hazards, assess the degree of risk they pose, and determine the best course of action is an important element of a safe flight.
Four Risk Elements
During each flight, decisions must be made regarding events that involve interactions between the four risk elements—the PIC, the aircraft, the environment, and the operation. The decision-making process involves an evaluation of each of these risk elements to achieve an accurate perception of the flight situation. [Figure 13-5]
One of the most important decisions that a PIC must make is the go/no-go decision. Evaluating each of these risk elements can help a pilot decide whether a flight should be conducted or continued. In the following situations, the four risk elements and how they affect decision-making are evaluated.
Pilot—A pilot must continually make decisions about personal competency, condition of health, mental and emotional state, level of fatigue, and many other variables. A situation to consider: a pilot is called early in the morning to make a long flight. With only a few hours of sleep and congestion that indicates the possible onset of a cold, is that pilot safe to fly?
Aircraft—A pilot frequently bases decisions to fly on personal evaluations of the aircraft, such as its powerplant, performance, equipment, fuel state, or airworthiness. A situation to consider: en route to an oil rig an hour’s flight from shore, having just passed the shoreline, the pilot notices the oil temperature at the high end of the caution range. Should the pilot continue out to sea or return to the nearest suitable heliport/airport?
Environment—This encompasses many elements unrelated to the pilot or aircraft. It can include such factors as weather, ATC, navigational aids (NAVAID), terrain, takeoff and landing areas, and surrounding obstacles. Weather is one element that can change drastically over time and distance. A situation to consider: a pilot is ferrying a helicopter cross-country and encounters unexpected low clouds and rain in an area of rising terrain. Does the pilot try to stay under them and scud run, or turn around, stay in the clear, and obtain current weather information?
External Pressures—The interaction between the pilot, the aircraft, and the environment is greatly influenced by the purpose of each flight operation. A pilot must evaluate the three previous areas to decide on the desirability of undertaking or continuing the flight as planned. It is worth asking why the flight is being made, how critical it is to maintain the schedule, and if the trip is worth the risks. A situation to consider: a pilot is tasked to take some technicians into rugged mountains for a routine survey in marginal weather. Would it be preferable to wait for better conditions to ensure a safe flight? How would the priorities change if a pilot were tasked to search for cross-country skiers who had become lost in deep snow and radioed for help?