Teaching Dynamic Risk Management

Managing risk in a changing environment is a critical skill to teach all pilots-in-training. Read our SAFEblog for techniques.

The risk equation of for a flight is not fixed before departure with a single analysis. It is continuously changing due to the duration and dynamics of each unique mission. Every flight seems to have a few “surprises” that are not part of the original plan even on the best days. This uncertainty keeps flying exciting and requires flexibility and resilience on the part of the pilot to successfully manage the changing risk profiles. It is essential we build these skills into our pilots-in-training for future safety.

An initial risk analysis like P-A-V-E should be an integral part of every flight – it is required in the current FAA ACS – but it’s often neglected on an average  GA flight. As educators, we know our students will model our behavior, so it’s incumbent upon us to embrace a higher level of professionalism and make this a prominent part of every training flight. These cognitive risk management skills have historically been under-emphasized and show up often as weak areas on flight tests. In addition to the preflight analysis, every pilot-in-training should work through a real “risk management model” in a dynamic flight environment (created by the CFI). This is not only for their flight test but as a working tool for their future safety.

Due to short lessons, limited geography, and a focus on “efficiency” ($$) “real” experience in flight training is obviously rare. We just can’t go enough places and build enough time to realistically “gain unique experiences.”. So CFIs must use their “creative license” and generate scenarios to present these challenges. Here are some  CFI-PRO™ techniques to improve your effectiveness (and your client’s future safety). Scenarios add variety and challenge (without cost) if used appropriately. (Your comments and additions are encouraged below!)

Visualize the P-A-V-E elements and specific common challenges like sliders on a mixing board. Each variable is constantly in motion anyway, but a creative CFI can intervene and change the balance at will. Be subtle and creative, using realistic experiences from your personal experience to challenge your students. As a CFI you can dial up the challenge by suddenly creating too low fuel (the cap must have been off) or a pop-up TSM along the route. Try taking away the NAV source and see how their pilotage is working. The secret to success as an educator here is creating realistic challenges appropriate to the level of your pilot. Scenarios need to be manageable to create teachable challenges. Your end result should be some struggle but ultimate success leading to learning, mastery and a boost to confidence.

Have your pilot-in-training share their “mental model” as they work through their challenges and solutions to each problem your present. In debrief point out the various mental models available to maintain situational awareness while applying and testing a solution to the current problem. Make sure you clients understand that ADM involves achieving the best solution given the hand we are dealt; “satisficing.” A “perfect outcome” is often not possible, this is an optimizing game. Decision-making under pressure is the heart of aviation safety, and certainly something they will see on their flight test from a competent DPE. Scenarios and ADM are the heart of the current ACS.

Every professional aviation educator should be working to create fully-qualified, capable aviators that exceed the FAA minimum standards.  Too often DPEs see questionable “test takers” some CFI sent just hoping they will successfully scape by. A “70% pass” might be an “outcome” but should never be a “goal” in flight training. When the FAA issues a new pilot certificate, it is not limited to the small geographical area your pilot trained in or just good flight days you previously specified. Your new pilot can fly the whole USA for the rest of their lives on any day they like. I did have one (airplane owner) pilot take off the day after his test and circumnavigate the USA!

Next week we will discuss using simulator scenarios for this same purpose of building skills and flexibility. What a tool to create some struggle! Fly safely (and often), have a great New Year.


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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

One thought on “Teaching Dynamic Risk Management”

  1. From Dudley Henriques on FB (copied here since it is so germane) And rule number one for flight instructors is that in teaching risk management, it’s the development of ATTITUDE and HABIT PATTERN in a pilot that will determine the success or failure of the risk management process.
    You should begin developing these assets in your students from day one.
    Risk management applied by rote to comply with some rule or regulation such as shouting “Clear Prop!” and hitting the starter immediately with no pause to collect a response or assertion that the prop is indeed clear is an example of rote compliance to satisfy a requirement .
    THIS is a perfect example of risk management misunderstood. There are many many others.

    It’s the PAUSE after the shout that defines the pilot who truly understands the WHY and who has developed the proper attitude and habit pattern that defines the REAL meaning of the phrase “Risk Management”.
    BE THAT PILOT……………the one who understands the WHY associated with the pause after the shout of “CLEAR PROP” and you are well on your way to coming to a total understanding of how we seek to develop and use “Risk Management” in aviation.

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