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Aviation Learning Center Document Risk Management Teaching Tips
Author: Susan Parson Date: April 2005
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There is a lot of talk these days about the need to incorporate risk management concepts and principles into flight training. Most flight instructors would agree that we should minimize the risk inherent in flying. But what does "safety" really mean? What exactly is "risk management?" How can a flight instructor not only ensure the safety of flight training, but also train clients in all stages of training to manage risk after they leave the relatively protected flight training environment?

As an active part-time flight instructor, a Civil Air Patrol instructor and check pilot, and (since May 2004) a full-time employee of the FAA's General Aviation and Commercial Division (AFS-800 in "FAA-speak"), I have been thinking a lot about these issues lately. One of the results of the ongoing process of thinking, talking, and testing practical risk management training materials is Volume 2 (http://www.faa.gov/education_research/tr. . .g/flight_instructor/media/Volume2.pdf) of the FAA's three Flight Instructor Refresher Course developer's guide modules, which is also accessible through the Online Resources section at www.faasafety.gov. (http://www.faasafety.gov) Volume 2 focuses on introducing the concepts of system safety and risk management as they appear in the formal literature on these topics.

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Perceive, Process, Perform
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More importantly, however, this document -- which was developed by active flight instructors -- seeks to offer a few practical tools for teaching your flight training clients to think, and practice, effective risk management in the real world. These tools start with the Perceive -- Process -- Perform model developed by the FAA's Aviation Safety Program. To use this model, you:

  • PERCEIVE hazards;

  • PROCESS level of risk;

  • PERFORM risk management.

I like to think of this 3P model as a mental equivalent to the physical flow pattern and scan techniques we teach for checking airplane configuration and instruments. In fact, the components of 3P model match up very well to the cross-check (perceive), interpretation (process), and control (perform) elements of the standard instrument scan. Just as in the case of an instrument scan, however, the 3P technique itself is pointless unless you know what to look for, how to interpret what you see, and how to apply that information to controlling the risk inherent in operating several thousand feet above Mother Earth.

Here's how the elements of the 3P scan are intended to work together:

  • As you perceive (cross-check), the goal is to identify hazards, which are events, objects, or circumstances that could contribute to an undesired event. For example, a large nick in the propeller is a hazard.

  • As you process (interpret), the goal is to determine whether the hazards you have identified constitute risk, which is the future impact of a hazard that is not controlled or eliminated. The degree of risk posed by a given hazard can be measured in terms of exposure (number of people or resources affected), severity (extent of possible loss), and probability (the likelihood that a hazard will cause a loss). For example, the hazard described above (a nick in the propeller) poses a risk only if the airplane is flown. If the airplane stays on the ground, there is no risk. If, however, the damaged prop is exposed to normal engine operation, there is a high risk is that it could fracture and cause catastrophic damage not only to the airplane and its occupants, but also to people and property on the ground.

  • In order to perform (control) by mitigating the risk identified in the perceive and process stages, you need to determine what you can do to maximize safety (i.e., freedom from those conditions (hazards) that can cause death, injury, or illness; or damage to equipment, property, or the environment). Since flight training is not possible without some level of risk, you also need to decide what constitutes an "acceptable" level of risk.

In this connection, it is helpful to use the four basic rules of risk management:

  • Accept no unnecessary risk. Unnecessary risk comes without a corresponding benefit. With a brand-new instrument student, for example, the risk of training in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) may outweigh any benefit from the experience.

  • Make risk decisions at the appropriate level. Risk decisions should be made by the person who can do something to reduce or eliminate the risk. Although you, as the instructor, retain final responsibility for the safety of the flight, remember that you are training clients to act as pilot-in-command. Asking them to identify hazards, assess risk, and suggest ways to mitigate the risk will instill good habits and help them develop judgment. Their answers to these questions will also give you valuable insights on the extent of the student's aeronautical decision-making skills.

  • Accept risk when benefits outweigh costs (i.e., dangers) With an advanced instrument student, the benefits of training in IMC may outweigh the potential dangers, so long as there has been a careful risk assessment and implementation of appropriate risk controls.

  • Integrate risk management into planning at all levels. Because risk is an unavoidable part of flying, safety requires the use of appropriate and effective risk management before every flight. As flight instructors, therefore, we need to help our clients develop the risk management skills they need to handle challenges that are not addressed by the rules or (more likely) beyond their experience.

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Practical Risk Management Tools
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So how can you incorporate the 3P risk management model into your training practices, and how can you help your clients develop the habit of a continuous risk management "scan?" There are many ways to approach this question, but here are two methods you might try out in both your flight training work and your own personal flying.

Ask Questions.

At the quickest and most fundamental level, using the 3P method of practical risk management can be as simple as requiring your students to ask and answer a few basic questions before every flight. For example:

  • To perceive, ask "what can hurt me, my passengers, or my aircraft?"

  • To process, ask "how can this hazard hurt me, and how badly?"

  • To perform, ask "what can I do to make sure this hazard does not hurt me or anyone else?"

Use Checklists.

For those (like me) who need or want a more structured approach to using the 3P model, here are three simple checklists that can be associated with each of the three components:

To help students perceive (cross-check) the hazards in all critical areas associated with a flight, encourage use of the PAVE checklist to identify hazards. Specifically:

  • PILOT: What hazards are associated with the pilot (e.g., training, total experience, recent experience, physical and emotional health).

  • AIRCRAFT: What hazards are associated with the aircraft? Does it have the right equipment? Is it in good mechanical condition?

  • ENVIRONTMENT: What hazards are associated with the airport to be used? Are the runways long enough? What kind of terrain will the flight encounter? What are the weather conditions? Will the route cover controlled or restricted airspace?

  • EXTERNAL PRESSURES: What are the external pressures likely to affect the pilot's decision-making? Are there urgent reasons to proceed? Will passenger pressure be an issue? What alternatives are available?

To help pilots process (interpret) the possible impact and likelihood of each hazard identified through the PAVE checklist and begin to think about risk controls, use the CARE checklist:

  • CONSEQUENCES: What are the possible outcomes (consequences) posed by each of the hazards identified with the PAVE checklist? Hint: Think about likelihood and severity for each one.

  • ALTERNATIVES: What are the alternative courses of action available to you?

  • REALITY: What is the reality of the situation? Wishful thinking that it will "probably" be okay can lead to very poor decisions.

  • EXTERNAL PRESSURES: Ask yourself again what external pressures will affect not only the initial go/no-go decision, but also the continue/divert decision once you are airborne.

To help pilots perform risk management, use the ME checklist:

  • MITIGATE: What can I do to mitigate (reduce) the risk posed by each hazard I have identified?

  • ELIMINATE: Can I completely eliminate any of the hazards and their associated risk?

Putting it all together creates a continuous process much like the cross-check, interpretation, and control steps of the familiar instrument scan.

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Real World Risk Management
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That's all great in theory, you say, but I fly and teach in the real world! Who has time for all this risk management rigmarole? In fact, using the 3P risk management cycle need not be a time-consuming chore. With practice and consistent use, running through the 3P cycle can become a habit that is as smooth, efficient, and automatic as a well-honed instrument scan. One way to implement these ideas is to include a 3P risk management discussion as a standard feature of your preflight briefing with the student or client. For example:

Perceive: Preflighting the Pilot should be the first step. Both you and your student should be healthy, well-rested, and alert. The next step is preflighting the Aircraft. Before you send your student out to the plane, though, help him or her think of the preflight process in terms of hazard identification (e.g., what could hurt me or people on the ground if I take off with less than the minimum quantity of oil?) A good weather briefing is part of identifying hazards related to the flight enVironment, and so is preflight planning for information on runway lengths, frequencies, and other factors. Last but not least, teach your student to list any External pressures that might create a hazard. For example, is the client trying to fit a flight lesson into a busy day, with "can't miss" appointments scheduled after the lesson?

Process: To assess the level of risk you face on a given flight, talk through the Consequences of each hazard you just identified. In the case of the pilot, for example, what should you do if your student or client rushes in looking harried, exhausted and stressed out? If you charge ahead without first giving the person time to calm down, s/he will learn little from the aeronautical lesson, but may well learn the wrong lesson about risk management. As an Alternative, consider making it a ground training day, or use the simulator if it is appropriate to the student's stage of learning. Simulator sessions -- even if only a "flight" on Microsoft FlightSim -- can teach students a lot about the impact (so to speak) of stress and fatigue on basic airplane control and aeronautical decision-making. Ensure that your students and clients acknowledge the Reality of each situation and hazard. One of my instructor friends reminds her students that any statement requiring use of the word "probably" definitely needs another reality check. Finally, the number of accidents resulting from a "get there" mentality requires that you assess the potential influence of External pressures. For example, will tight scheduling of the aircraft induce you or your student to rush through the preflight and engine runup? A teenage student of mine once requested another instructor because I refused to do just that on his first lesson. I can only hope he remembers something from the fact that I actually practiced what I was preaching about priorities.

Perform: Let's assume that your primary student heads out to do some solo work in the local practice area. Shortly after takeoff, s/he discovers that the C-152's attitude indicator has tumbled, even though the vacuum pressure is well within normal limits. The weather is good and s/he knows that the AI is not required for day VFR flight. However, the student has not previously encountered such a problem, and recognizes the malfunction as a hazard that could lead to risk of distraction or disorientation. The student's uncertainty also creates a degree of stress, which also raises the level of risk associated with this flight. What are the options for performing risk management? There are several ways to Mitigate the risk; the most obvious is to cover the malfunctioning instrument to minimize its ability to distract or disorient the pilot. Another option is to Eliminate the risk inherent in continuing the flight by returning to the airport. The student might also accept the risk and continue the practice session. What would your student(s) do in this situation? What would you want them to do? There may not be a single "right" answer. The point is to teach your students and clients to recognize the hazards and options they will face in any given flight, and to equip them with the tools they need to evaluate their options in a logical and safety-conscious way.

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It's All About Habits
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It is never too early to start teaching your students about risk management. You may find that the 3P model is not all that different from what you may have been doing all along. So why use it at all? Here are two reasons. First, I'm willing to bet that many of your flight training clients will have no idea what to do if you simply tell them they need to manage risk. The 3P model gives you a tool to teach them a structured, efficient, and systematic way to identify hazards, assess risk, and implement effective risk controls. Second, practicing risk management needs to be as automatic in GA flying as basic airplane control. Consider making the 3P discussion a standard feature of your preflight discussion. As is true for other flying skills, risk management thinking habits are best developed through repetition and consistent adherence to specific procedures. In the increasingly complex aviation system, we owe it to the pilots we train to equip them with the tools to practice this vital skill.

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