Single-Pilot Resource Management and the 5P Check (Part One)

SRM is about how to gather information, analyze it, and make decisions. Learning how to identify problems, analyze the information, and make informed and timely decisions is not as straightforward as the training involved in learning specific maneuvers. Learning how to judge a situation and “how to think” in the endless variety of situations encountered while flying out in the “real world” is more difficult.

 

There is no one right answer in ADM, rather each pilot is expected to analyze each situation in light of experience level, personal minimums, and current physical and mental readiness level, and make his or her own decision.

Figure 6-10. The 5 Ps.

Figure 6-10. The 5 Ps.

SRM sounds good on paper, but it requires a way for pilots to understand and use it in their daily flights. One practical application is called the Five Ps (5 Ps). [Figure 6-10] The 5 Ps are:

  • Plan
  • Plane
  • Pilot
  • Passengers
  • Programming

Each of these areas consists of a set of challenges and opportunities that face a single pilot. Each can substantially increase or decrease the risk of successfully completing the flight based on the pilot’s ability to make informed and timely decisions. The 5 Ps are used to evaluate the pilot’s current situation at key decision points during the flight or when an emergency arises. These decision points include preflight, pretakeoff, hourly or at the midpoint of the flight, predescent, and just prior to the final approach fix or for VFR operations, just prior to entering the traffic pattern.

The 5 Ps are based on the idea that the pilots have essentially five variables that impact their environment and can cause the pilot to make a single critical decision or several less critical decisions that when added together can create a critical outcome. This concept stems from the belief that current decision-making models tended to be reactionary in nature. A change has to occur and be detected to drive a risk management decision by the pilot. For instance, many pilots use risk management sheets that are filled out by the pilot prior to takeoff. These form a catalog of risks that may be encountered that day and turn them into numerical values.

If the total exceeds a certain level, the flight is altered or cancelled. Informal research shows that while these are useful documents for teaching risk factors, they are almost never used outside of formal training programs. The 5P concept is an attempt to take the information contained in those sheets and in other available models and put it to good use.

 

The first decision is whether to go or not to go on the flight, and the easiest point at which to cancel due to bad weather is the evening before the scheduled flight. A good pilot always watches the weather and checks weather information sources to stay abreast of current conditions and forecasts. This enables him or her to warn passengers that the weather conditions are questionable and they might need a backup plan. The subsequent visit to the flight planning room (or call to AFSS) provides all the information readily available to make a sound decision, and is where communication and Fixed Base Operator (FBO) services are readily available to make alternate travel plans. [Figures 6-11 and 6-12]

Figure 6-11. The 5Ps are applied to various modes prior to and during the flight.

Figure 6-11. The 5Ps are applied to various modes prior to and during the flight.

Figure 6-12. The first decision point is during the preflight planning.

Figure 6-12. The first decision point is during the preflight planning.

For instance, the easiest point to cancel a flight due to bad weather is before the pilot and passengers walk out the door and load the aircraft. So, the first decision point is preflight in the flight planning room.

The second easiest point in the flight to make a critical safety decision is just prior to takeoff. Few pilots have ever had to make an emergency takeoff. While the point of the 5P check is to help the pilot fly, the correct application of the 5 Ps before takeoff is to assist in making a reasoned go/no-go decision based on all the information available. The decision is usually to go with certain restrictions and changes but may also be a no-go. The key fact is that these two points in the process of flying are critical go/no-go points on each and every flight. [Figure 6-13]

Figure 6-13. This is a good time to assess self and fatigue. Are you running late? Have you checked the destination weather yet? Remember that when things are going wrong, they do not get better with time.

Figure 6-13. This is a good time to assess self and fatigue. Are you running late? Have you checked the destination weather yet? Remember that when things are going wrong, they do not get better with time.

The third point at which to review the 5 Ps is the midpoint of the flight. [Figure 6-14] Pilots often wait until the ATIS is in range to check weather, yet at this point in the flight many good options have already been passed. Additionally, fatigue and low altitude hypoxia serve to rob the pilot of much of his or her energy by the end of a long and tiring flight day. Fatigue affects memory, attention to detail, and communication ability. Frequently associated with pilot error, it also impairs coordination and degrades situational awareness, seriously influencing a pilot’s ability to make effective decisions. There are several types fatigue. Physical fatigue results from sleep loss, exercise, or physical work while factors such as stress and prolonged performance of cognitive work result in mental fatigue.

Figure 6-14. The second point in applying the 5P check is just before takeoff.

Figure 6-14. The second point in applying the 5P check is just before takeoff.

Hypoxia or oxygen starvation also robs a pilot of physical and mental acuity. Oxygen deprivation is insidious because it sneaks up on the unwary and steals the first line of sensory protection, the sense that something is wrong. The human body does not give reliable signals at the onset of hypoxia so a pilot needs special training in how to recognize the symptoms. This training is important because the brain is the first part of the body to reflect a diminished oxygen supply and evidence of that is usually a loss of judgment.

 

Everyone’s response to hypoxia varies, but the effects of hypoxia can be safely experienced under professional supervision at the Civil Aeromedical Institute’s altitude chamber in Oklahoma City and at 14 cooperating military installations throughout the United States. To attend a 1-day physiological training course, contact the FAA Accident Prevention Specialist for an Aeronautical Center (AC) Form 3150-7.

Once a pilot begins to suffer a loss of energy, he or she transitions from a decision-making mode to an acceptance mode. If the flight is longer than 2 hours, the 5P check should be conducted hourly. This is also a good time to evaluate the destination airport. Believe it or not many pilots have more problems on the ground taxiing than on the approach. Because larger airports have taxiways designed for large transport aircraft, the vantage point for a 767 crew sitting 18 feet off the ground regarding taxiways (especially at night) is superior to that for a pilot of a Cessna 172 with a vantage point at 6 feet. Therefore, at the midpoint of the flight, the pilot should review the layout, approaches, and the taxiway structure and its identification system. For instance, at Atlanta Hartsfield, a pilot is expected to understand the difference between “inner and outer M” (Mike) taxiway, and at Dulles a pilot is expected to know where “spot two” is located. Landing is not the time to review the airport facility. Conversely, if a pilot does not know the idiosyncrasies of the airport, requesting progressive instructions and/or letting ATC know he or she is “not familiar” reflects professionalism.

The last two decision points are just prior to descent into the terminal area and just prior to the final approach fix, or if VFR just prior to entering the traffic pattern, as preparations for landing commence. Most pilots execute approaches with the expectation that they will land out of the approach every time. A healthier approach requires the pilot to assume that changing conditions (the 5 Ps) will cause the pilot to divert or execute the missed approach on every approach. This keeps the pilot alert to conditions that may increase risk and threaten the safe conduct of the flight. Diverting from cruise altitude saves fuel, allows unhurried use of the autopilot, and is less reactive in nature. Diverting from the final approach fix, while more difficult, still allows the pilot to plan and coordinate better rather than executing a futile missed approach. A detailed discussion of each of the 5 Ps follows.