Risk and Resource Management

Ground operations also include the pilot’s assessment of the risk factors that contribute to safety of flight and the pilot’s management of the resources, which may be leveraged to maximize the flight’s successes. The Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2) should be reviewed for a comprehensive discussion of this topic. A review of key points follows.

Approximately 85 percent of all aviation accidents have been determined by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to have been caused by “failure of the pilot to…” As such, a reduction of these failures is the fundamental cornerstone to risk and resource management. The risks involved with flying an airplane are very different from those experienced in daily activities, such as driving to work. Managing risks and resources requires a conscious effort that goes beyond the stick and rudder skills required to pilot the airplane.

Risk Management

Risk management is a formalized structured process for identifying and mitigating hazards and assessing the consequences and benefits of the accepted risk. A hazard is a condition, event, object, or circumstance that could lead to or contribute to an unplanned or undesired event, such as an incident or accident. It is a source of potential danger.

Some examples of hazards are:

  1. Marginal weather or environmental conditions
  2. Lack of pilot qualification, currency, or proficiency for the intended flight.

Identifying the Hazard

Hazard identification is the critical first step of the risk management process. If pilots do not recognize and properly identify a hazard and choose to continue, the consequences of the risk involved is not managed or mitigated.

In the previous examples, the hazard identification process results in the following assessment:

  • Marginal weather or environmental conditions is an identified hazard because it may result in the pilot having a skill level that is not adequate for managing the weather conditions or requiring airplane performance that is unavailable.
  • The lack of pilot training is an identified hazard because the pilot does not have experience to either meet the legal requirements or the minimum necessary skills to safely conduct the flight.


Risk is the future impact of a hazard that is not controlled or eliminated. It can be viewed as future uncertainty created by the hazard.

  • If the weather or environmental conditions are not properly assessed, such as in a case where an airplane may encounter inadvertent instrument conditions, loss of airplane control may result.
  • If the pilot’s lack of training is not properly assessed, the pilot may be placed in flight regimes that exceed the pilot’s stick-and-rudder capability.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment determines the degree of risk and whether the degree of risk is worth the outcome of the planned activity. Once the planned activity is started, the pilot needs to consider whether to continue or not. A pilot should always have viable alternatives available in the event the original flight plan cannot be accomplished. Thus, hazard and risk are the two defining elements of risk management. A hazard can be a real or perceived condition, event, or circumstance that a pilot encounters. Risk assessment is a quantitative value weighted to a task, action, or event. When armed with the predicted risk assessment of an activity, pilots are able to manage and mitigate their risk.

In the example where marginal weather is the identified hazard, it is relatively simple to understand that the consequences of loss of control during any inadvertent encounter with instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) are likely to be severe for a pilot not prepared to fly on an instrument flight plan. A risk assessment for any such pilot in this example would determine that the risk is unacceptable and as a result, mitigation of the risk is required. Proper risk mitigation would require that flight be canceled or delayed until weather conditions were not conducive for inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions.

Risk Identification

Identifying hazards and associated risk is key to preventing risk and 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 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.

Risk Mitigation

Risk assessment is only part of the equation. After determining the level of risk, the pilot needs to mitigate the risk. For example, the VFR pilot flying from point A to point B (50 miles) in marginal flight conditions has several ways to reduce risk:

  1. Wait for the weather to improve to good VFR conditions.
  2. Take a pilot who is more experienced or who is certified as an instrument flight rules (IFR) pilot.
  3. Delay the flight.
  4. Cancel the flight.
  5. Drive.

Resource Management

Familiarity with crew resource management (CRM) and single-pilot resource management (SRM) enables a crew or pilot to manage all available resources effectively and leads to a successful flight. In general aviation, SRM comes into play more often. The focus of SRM is on the single-pilot operation.

SRM integrates the following:

  • Situational Awareness
  • Human Resource Management
  • Task Management
  • Aeronautical Decision-making (ADM)

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is the accurate perception of operational and environmental factors that affect the flight. It is a logical analysis based upon the airplane, external support, environment, and the pilot. It is awareness on what is happening in and around the flight.

Human Resource Management

Human resource management requires an effective use of all available resources: human, equipment, and information.

Human resources include the essential personnel routinely working with the pilot to ensure safety of flight. These people include, but are not limited to: weather briefers, flight line personnel, maintenance personnel, crew members, pilots, and air traffic personnel. Pilots need to communicate effectively with these people. This is accomplished by using the key components of the communication process: inquiry, advocacy, and assertion.

Pilots should recognize the need to seek enough information from these resources to make a valid decision. After the necessary information has been gathered, the pilot’s decision should be passed on to those concerned, such as air traffic controllers, crewmembers, and passengers. The pilot may have to request assistance from others and be assertive to resolve some situations safely.

Equipment in many of today’s aircraft includes automated flight and navigation systems. These automatic systems, while providing relief from many routine tasks, present a different set of problems for pilots. The automation intended to reduce pilot workload essentially removes the pilot from the process of managing the aircraft, thereby reducing situational awareness and leading to complacency. Information from these systems needs to be continually monitored to ensure proper situational awareness. Pilots should be aware of both equipment capabilities and equipment limitations in order to manage those systems effectively and safely.

Information workloads and automated systems, such as autopilots, need to be properly managed to ensure a safe flight. By planning ahead, a pilot can effectively reduce workload during critical phases of flight and prevent erosion of performance. The pilot who effectively manages his or her workload completes routine tasks as early as possible to preclude the possibility of becoming overloaded and stressed in the later, more critical stages of the flight.

Task Management

Pilots have a limited capacity for information. Once information flow exceeds the pilot’s ability to process the information mentally, any additional information becomes unattended or displaces other tasks and information already being processed. In addition, distraction and fixation impede the ability to process information. For example, if a pilot becomes distracted and fixates on an instrument light failure, the unnecessary focus displaces capability and prevents appreciation of tasks of greater importance.

Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM)

Flying safely requires the effective integration of three separate sets of skills: stick-and-rudder skills needed to control the airplane; skills related to proficient operation of aircraft systems; and ADM skills. The ADM process addresses all aspects of decision-making in the flight deck and identifies the steps involved in good decision-making. While the ADM process does not eliminate errors, it helps the pilot recognize errors and enables the pilot to manage the error to minimize its effects.

These steps are:

  1. Identifying personal attitudes hazardous to safe flight;
  2. Learning behavior modification techniques;
  3. Learning how to recognize and cope with stress;
  4. Developing risk assessment skills;
  5. Using all resources; and
  6. Evaluating the effectiveness of one’s own personal ADM skills.