Tuesday, March 18, 2008


During each flight, decisions must be made regarding events involving interactions between the four risk elements—the pilot in command, the airplane, 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.

One of the most important decisions that a pilot in command must make is the go/no-go decision. Evaluating each of these risk elements can help in deciding whether a flight should be conducted or continued.

Below is a review of the four risk elements and how they affect decision making regarding the following situations.

Pilot—A pilot must continually make decisions about competency, condition of health, mental and emotional state, level of fatigue, and many other variables. For example, a pilot may be called early in the morning to make a long flight. If a pilot has had only a few hours of sleep and is concerned that the congestion being experienced could be the onset of a cold, it would be prudent to consider if the flight could be accomplished safely.

A pilot had only 4 hours of sleep the night before. The boss then asked the pilot to fly to a meeting in a city 750 miles away. The reported weather was marginal and not expected to improve. After assessing fitness as a pilot, it was decided that it would not be wise to make the flight. The boss was initially unhappy, but later convinced by the pilot that the risks involved were unacceptable.

Airplane—A pilot will frequently base decisions on the evaluations of the airplane, such as performance, equipment, or airworthiness.

During a preflight, a pilot noticed a small amount of oil dripping from the bottom of the cowling. Although the quantity of oil seemed insignificant at the time, the pilot decided to delay the takeoff and have a mechanic check the source of the oil. The pilot's good judgment was confirmed when the mechanic found that one of the oil cooler hose fittings was loose.

Environment—This encompasses many elements not pilot or airplane related. It can include such factors as weather, air traffic control, navaids, terrain, takeoff and landing areas, and surrounding obstacles. Weather is one element that can change drastically over time and distance.

A pilot was landing a small airplane just after a heavy jet had departed a parallel runway. The pilot assumed that wake turbulence would not be a problem since landings had been performed under similar circumstances. Due to a combination of prevailing winds and wake turbulence from the heavy jet drifting across the landing runway, the airplane made a hard landing. The pilot made an error when assessing the flight environment.

Operation—The interaction between the pilot, airplane, and the environment is greatly influenced by the purpose of each flight operation. The 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 is it to maintain the schedule, and is the trip worth the risks?

On a ferry flight to deliver an airplane from the factory, in marginal weather conditions, the pilot calculated the groundspeed and determined that the airplane would arrive at the destination with only 10 minutes of fuel remaining. The pilot was determined to keep on schedule by trying to "stretch" the fuel supply instead of landing to refuel. After landing with low fuel state, the pilot realized that this could have easily resulted in an emergency landing in deteriorating weather conditions. This was a chance that was not worth taking to keep the planned schedule.

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