Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Helicopter Risk Management

The FAA is committed to reducing the number of helicopter accidents and promoting risk management as an important component of flight training. The objective of risk management is to provide a proper balance between risk and opportunity. Two elements define risk management: hazard and risk. Hazard is a real or perceived condition, event, or circumstance that a pilot encounters. Risk is how the pilot views the potential impact of the hazard.

Risk management is the method used to control, eliminate, or reduce the hazard to an acceptable level. The individual pilot is unique to risk management. An acceptable level of risk to one pilot may not necessarily be the same to another pilot. Unfortunately in many cases, the pilot perceives that his or her level of risk acceptability is actually greater than their capability, thereby taking on risk that is dangerous.

For example, prior to entering a helicopter, the CFI must establish his or her own limitations. How far is the CFI willing to allow the student to drift during a hover? Once personal limitations are established, the CFI must fly within them. The CFI should always ensure that the helicopter is never allowed to depart the instructor’s comfort zone and maneuvering limitations. In reality, the instructor is observing the maneuvering of the helicopter and monitoring the control movements by sight or feel. The helicopter instructor has to be very familiar with that particular helicopter and it’s responses to control inputs and winds, especially at a hover with a wing with airspeed of 400+ knots flying while at 3 feet landing gear height above the surface. A split second delay in correcting an errant control input can be disastrous.

References and resources for risk management include:
  • Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, FAA-H-8083-25
  • Pilot risk management brochures located at (brochures include tips for teaching practical risk management) [Figure 1-9]
  • Risk Management Handbook, FAA-H-8083-2
Figure 1-9. Brochure available from the FAA website for teaching practical risk management.
 Since the DPE evaluates the applicant’s ability to use good ADM procedures in order to evaluate risks throughout the practical test, it is important the CFI incorporates risk management into the flight lessons as soon as possible. The scenarios should be realistic and within the capabilities of the helicopter used for the practical test.

To teach risk management, CFIs must understand system safety flight training occurs in three phases. First, there are the traditional aircraft control maneuvers. In order to apply critical thinking skills, the student must first have a high degree of confidence in their ability to fly the aircraft. Basic airmanship skill is the priority during this phase of flight training. The CFI accepts the responsibility of risk management until the student is able to accept more tasking.

In the second phase, the CFI teaches the student how to identify hazards, manage risk, and use all available resources to make each flight as safe as possible. This can be accomplished through scenarios that emphasize the skill sets being taught. For example, the CFI could inform the student that they were going to do some photography in the mountains for a survey. The instructor could give the student two temperatures and one elevation for the areas. Then, the instructor would assist the student in reviewing the performance charts for the two temperatures and have the student determine the differences in helicopter performance with those temperatures and how to determine any maneuvering restrictions from those temperatures. “Does the lack of OGE hover restrict anything?” could be one question. Then hopefully, the CFI and student would fly up to some point for the student to have a safe and real-life experience of the difference in aircraft performance in higher temperatures and higher density altitudes.

In the third phase, as the student is completing the course of training, the instructor should begin exposing the student to practical scenarios of helicopter flight and enable the student to discern the hazards associated with each profile. Using the “simple to complex” method at all times, the student is introduced to scenarios demanding focus on several safety of-flight issues. [Figure 1-10]

Figure 1-10. An example of a system safety process an instructor could use in flight training.
The CFI must present the subject of risk management as it relates to helicopter operations for the level of instruction being presented. For example, a new helicopter student has different requirements from those of a prospective commercial Emergency Medical Services (EMS) pilot.

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