Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Risk Management

Do we know what we don’t know?

Risk management is a solid concept, and an often-used term in aviation, medicine, firefighting, insurance and business. It denotes thought and intellect, decision-making skill and good old common sense. In aviation, risk management is that smart thing that pilots do in all phases of preflight and flight.

Transport Canada’s definition of risk management is “the process of identifying risks, assessing their implications, deciding on a course of action, and evaluating the results.” Wikipedia defines it as “the identification, assessment and prioritization of risks…followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events.”

While managing risk might not be an overly “simple” concept, surely it’s something we smart pilots can understand. Or can we? Statistics indicate otherwise.

Educate Yourself

According to the 2010 AOPA Air Safety Institute’s Joseph T. Nall Report, general aviation’s annual review of aircraft accidents, personal, Part 91 flights accounted for less than 47% of noncommercial flying, but accounted for a staggering 78% of all accidents and 84% of fatal accidents. The average accident rate over the last decade is 67% higher for noncommercial flights, and twice the rate for fatal accidents. The fatal accidents are often the best trained among us instrument-rated commercial pilots. Mechanical failures account for very few accidents, only 17% of the total.

Why is managing risk clearly so difficult for general aviation pilots? Why do smart and well-trained people contribute so much to the accident rate each year, continuing to do dumb things like mismanage fuel, fly unprepared into bad weather and fly too low and slow—all leading causes of airplane accidents? Do we know the risks and ignore them? Do we not do enough reading and research into why others have made mistakes? Do we not know what we do not know?

The Nall Report

The Joseph T. Nall Report is the Air Safety Institute’s annual review of general aviation accidents that occurred during the previous year. The report is dedicated to the memory of Joe Nall, an NTSB member who died as a passenger in an airplane accident in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1989.

Accident Causes
After excluding accidents due to mechanical failures or improper maintenance, accidents whose causes haven’t been determined, and the handful due to circumstances beyond the pilot’s control, those that remain are considered pilot related. Most pilot-related accidents reflect specific failures of flight planning or decision making, or the characteristic hazards of the high-risk phases of flight. Six major categories of pilot-related accidents consistently account for a large number of accidents overall, a high proportion of those that are fatal, or both. Mechanical failures and unexplained mishaps make up most of the rest.


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