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Training Tip: 'No unnecessary risk'Training Tip: 'No unnecessary risk'

A warm front is advancing toward the area with its first effects expected during the time period of a proposed VFR cross-country flight to visit family in another state.

Figure 2-3 from the "Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge" depicting the recommended risk management process. Image courtesy of the FAA.

Ceilings are not expected to go down for several hours, but throughout the period there is a chance of marginal visibility and freezing rain from precipitation falling from the warm layer aloft into colder air at lower altitudes.

A pilot considering a VFR flight might well feel torn between making the relatives happy by showing up for holiday fun, and staying put and missing a chance to see loved ones and enjoy warm cider and three kinds of pie.

Meanwhile, family members, well-intentioned but unaware of the weighty decision the pilot faces, are texting, emailing, and calling, eager to know when the flight will arrive.

Everybody loves pie, and no one wants to disappoint, but there are times when it would be unwise to rely on luck where capability is lacking.

Not only does freezing rain, or even freezing drizzle, pose a serious threat of structural icing, but a warm front, with its widespread low clouds and restricted visibility, is nothing to tangle with, especially for a noninstrument-rated pilot flying a basic aircraft. Unfortunately, not all pilots are deterred.

The airman certification standards introduced in 2016 and revised in 2017 require a private pilot applicant to master task-specific knowledge, and to demonstrate understanding of each task’s risk-management elements.

“The goal of risk management is to proactively identify safety-related hazards and mitigate the associated risks,” notes Chapter 2 of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. The chapter adds that “when a pilot follows good decision-making practices, the inherent risk in a flight is reduced or even eliminated. The ability to make good decisions is based upon direct or indirect experience and education.”

The discussion offers four fundamental principles of risk management, beginning with this caution: “Accept no unnecessary risk. Flying is not possible without risk, but unnecessary risk comes without a corresponding return.”

The chapter offers an example: “If you are flying a new airplane for the first time, you might determine that the risk of making that flight in low visibility conditions is unnecessary.”

Trying to outfox incoming bad weather would be another example.

Take time to review the four fundamentals of risk management, then ask yourself whether your piloting decisions are mitigating risk or having the opposite effect.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Training, Student, Aeronautical Decision Making
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