Identifying hazards and associated risk is the key to minimize risk and prevent accidents. If a pilot fails to search for risk, it is likely that he or she will neither see it nor appreciate it for what all it represents. Unfortunately in aviation, pilots seldom have the opportunity to learn from their small errors in judgment because even small mistakes in aviation are often fatal. In order to identify risk, the use of standard procedures is of great assistance. One guide in the form of a checklist that helps the pilot examine areas of interest in his or her preflight planning is a framework called PAVE.
Using PAVE helps to identify risk before departure and assists the pilot’s decision-making process. With the PAVE checklist, pilots have a simple way to remember each category to examine for risk prior to each flight. Once a pilot identifies the risks of a flight, he or she needs to decide whether the risk or combination of risks can be managed safely and successfully. If not, make the decision to cancel the flight. If the pilot decides to continue with the flight, he or she should develop strategies to mitigate the risks. One way a pilot can control the risks is to set personal minimums for items in each risk category. These are limits unique to that individual pilot’s current level of experience and proficiency. One of the most important concepts that safe pilots understand is the difference between what is “legal” in terms of the regulations, and what is “smart” or “safe” in terms of pilot experience and proficiency.
- 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 sinus 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 being asked by the boss 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 was later convinced by the pilot that the risks involved were unacceptable.
- A pilot frequently bases decisions on evaluation 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.
- The environment encompasses many elements that are not pilot or airplane related, including such factors as weather, air traffic control (ATC), navigational aids (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
- 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 it is to maintain the schedule, and if the trip is worth the risks.
- On a ferry flight to deliver an airplane from the factory, the pilot calculated the groundspeed and determined he would arrive at the destination with only 10 minutes of fuel remaining. A check of the weather revealed he would be flying into marginal weather conditions. By asking himself whether it was more critical to maintain the schedule or to arrive with an intact aircraft, the pilot decided to schedule a refuel stop even though it would mean he would not be able to keep to the schedule. He chose not to “stretch” the fuel supply in marginal weather conditions which could have resulted in an emergency landing.