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Reviewing the System-Safety Approach to Risk Management

Reviewing the System-Safety Approach to Risk ManagementWith winter flying season underway, we thought it’s a good time to review the system-safety approach to risk management, courtesy of FAA Safety Briefing.

Defining a GA system

From a general aviation safety standpoint, a system is defined as a combination of people, procedures, equipment, facilities, software, tools, and materials that operate in a specific environment to perform a specific task or achieve a specific purpose.

When it comes to flying, there are myriad and ever-changing variables that comprise a GA flight operations system, including:

  • Pilot ability – Pilots differ in levels of knowledge, skill, experience, ability, and discipline
  • Complex procedures such as instrument approaches
  • Evolving technology and equipment changes, including airframes and avionics
  • Differing services among airports and air traffic control. Many are already changing as NextGen technologies are deployed in the National Airspace System.
  • Environmental factors, such as changing weather patterns, are also a critical factor in flight safety

So what can pilots do to mitigate these and other risks? Learn and use a system-safety approach to risk management — a decision-making process designed to methodically identify hazards, assess degrees of risk, and determine the best course of action.

Here are some of the basic definitions and concepts of risk management to help you understand and integrate it into your flights.

Hazard – A hazard is a present condition, event, object, or circumstance that could lead or contribute to an unplanned or undesired event, such as an unexpected landing due to a bird strike.

Risk is the future impact of a hazard that is not controlled or eliminated.

Pilots and aviation professionals are able to analyze the level of risk of a given hazard
with a risk-assessment matrix by measuring its severity (extent of possible loss) against the probability of it happening (likelihood that a hazard will cause a loss). Exposure (number of people or resources affected) is also considered in assessing risk in a risk-assessment matrix.

The FAA Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2) observes that:
Learning how to identify problems, analyze the information, and make informed and timely decisions is not as straightforward as the training involved in learning specific maneuvers. Learning how to judge a situation and “how to think” in the endless variety of situations encountered while flying out in the “real world” is more difficult. There is no one right answer in Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM); rather each pilot is expected to analyze each situation in light of experience level, personal minimums, and current physical and mental readiness level, and make his or her own decision.

To this end, the new FAA Airman Certification Standards (ACS), which began replacing the Practical Test Standards (PTS) in June 2016, now incorporates risk management into the certification standards for an airman certificate or rating.

The FAASTeam process

To make system safety and risk management more practical for real-world GA operations, the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) recommends a “three-P” process:

1. Perceive, or identify, the possible hazards associated with each category in the PAVE checklist:

Pilot – e.g., experience, recency, currency, physical and emotional condition

Aircraft – e.g., fuel reserves, experience in type, aircraft performance, aircraft equipment

enVironment – e.g., airport conditions, weather (VFR and IFR requirements), runways, lighting, terrain

External factors – e.g., impact of delays and diversions

2. Process, or analyze, by evaluating the severity, probability, and/or exposure of the risk posed by the hazard(s) you identified in step one.

3. Perform by finding ways to eliminate or mitigate the severity, probability, and/or exposure of each of the identified hazards.

With understanding and consistent use, the three-P cycle can and should become a habit to help ensure system safety and risk management before any flight.

Source: FAA Safety Briefing, January/February 2017, “Risky Business” The What, How and Why of Risk Management.”

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