The plan can also be called the mission or the task. It contains the basic elements of cross-country planning: weather, route, fuel, current publications, etc. The plan should be reviewed and updated several times during the course of the flight. [Figure 6-15] A delayed takeoff due to maintenance, fast-moving weather, and a short-notice temporary flight restriction (TFR) may all radically alter the plan. The plan is not only about the flight plan, but also all the events that surround the flight and allow the pilot to accomplish the mission. The plan is always being updated and modified and is especially responsive to changes in the other four remaining Ps. If for no other reason, the 5P check reminds the pilot that the day’s flight plan is real life and subject to change at any time.
Obviously, weather is a huge part of any plan. The addition of real time data link weather information provided by advanced avionics gives the pilot a real advantage in inclement weather, but only if the pilot is trained to retrieve and evaluate the weather in real time without sacrificing situational awareness. And of course, weather information should drive a decision, even if that decision is to continue on the current plan. Pilots of aircraft without datalink weather should get updated weather in flight through an AFSS and/or Flight Watch.
Both the plan and the plane are fairly familiar to most pilots. The plane consists of the usual array of mechanical and cosmetic issues that every aircraft pilot, owner, or operator can identify. [Figure 6-16] With the advent of advanced avionics, the plane has expanded to include database currency, automation status, and emergency backup systems that were unknown a few years ago. Much has been written about single-pilot IFR flight both with and without an autopilot. While use of autopilot is a personal decision, it is just that—a decision. Low IFR in a non-autopilot equipped aircraft may depend on several of the other Ps to be discussed. Pilot proficiency, currency, and fatigue are among them.
Flying, especially when used for business transportation, can expose the pilot to high altitude flying, long distance and endurance, and more challenging weather. An advanced avionics aircraft, simply due to its advanced capabilities, can expose a pilot to even more of these stresses. The traditional “IMSAFE” checklist is a good start. [Figure 6-17]
The combination of late night, pilot fatigue, and the effects of sustained flight above 5,000 feet may cause pilots to become less discerning, less critical of information, less decisive, and more compliant and accepting. Just as the most critical portion of the flight approaches (e.g., a night instrument approach in weather after a 4-hour flight), the pilot’s guard is down the most. The 5P process helps a pilot recognize the physiological situation at the end of the flight before takeoff and continues to update personal conditions as the flight progresses. Once risks are identified, the pilot is better equipped to make alternate plans that lessen the effects of these factors and provide a safer solution.
One of the key differences between CRM and SRM is the way passengers interact with the pilot. The pilot of a single-engine aircraft enters into a very personal relationship with the passengers. In fact, the pilot and passengers sit within arm’s reach all of the time. [Figure 6-18]
If the capabilities of a passenger sitting next to the pilot are not being utilized, the pilot is limiting the potential for a successful flight. Passengers can read checklists, verify PIC performance of an action, re-verify that the gear is down and the lights are on, look for other aircraft, and even tune radios. The failure of a pilot to integrate the passenger at some level of assistance is almost as bad as not utilizing a pilot in that seat. Another person onboard is a resource for the PIC to use. A bonus is heightened passenger appreciation for GA through the participation in the flight.
Sometimes passengers also have their own priorities that influence the PIC. The desire of the passengers to make airline connections or important business meetings easily enters into a pilot’s decision-making loop. Done in a healthy and open way, this can be a positive factor. Consider a flight to Dulles Airport and the passengers, both close friends and business partners, need to get to Washington, D.C., for an important meeting. The weather is VFR all the way to southern Virginia then turns to low IFR as the pilot approaches Dulles. A pilot employing the 5P approach might consider reserving a rental car at an airport in northern North Carolina or southern Virginia to coincide with a refueling stop. Thus, the passengers have a way to get to Washington, and the pilot has an alternate plan to avoid being pressured into continuing the flight if the conditions do not improve.
Passengers can also be pilots. If no one is designated as pilot in command (PIC) and unplanned circumstances arise, the decision-making styles of several self-confident pilots may come into conflict. Pilots also need to understand that non-pilots may not understand the level of risk involved in the flight. There is an element of risk in every flight. That is why SRM calls it risk management, not risk elimination. While a pilot may feel comfortable with the risk present in a night IFR flight, the passengers may not. A pilot employing SRM should ensure the passengers are involved in the decision-making and given tasks and duties to keep them busy and involved. If, upon a factual description of the risks present, the passengers decide to buy an airline ticket or rent a car, then a good decision has generally been made. This discussion also allows the pilot to move past what he or she thinks the passengers want to do and find out what they actually want to do. This removes self-induced pressure from the pilot.
The advanced avionics aircraft adds an entirely new dimension to the way GA aircraft are flown. The electronic instrument displays, GPS, and autopilot reduce pilot workload and increase pilot situational awareness. [Figure 6-19] While programming and operation of these devices are fairly simple and straightforward unlike the analog instruments they replace, they tend to capture the pilot’s attention and hold it for long periods of time. To avoid this phenomenon, the pilot should plan in advance when and where the programming for approaches, route changes, and airport information gathering should be accomplished, as well as times it should not. Pilot familiarity with the equipment, the route, the local air traffic control environment, and personal capabilities vis-à-vis the automation should drive when, where, and how the automation is programmed and used.
The pilot should also consider what his or her capabilities are in response to last minute changes of the approach (and the reprogramming required) and ability to make large-scale changes (a reroute for instance) while hand flying the aircraft. Since formats are not standardized, simply moving from one manufacturer’s equipment to another should give the pilot pause and require more conservative planning and decisions.