Flight Risk Assessment Tool and Personal Minimums Checklist
Our lives, along with the lives and well-being of our passengers, family and friends depends on our decisions. Unfortunately, our humanness can often cause us to make a bad decision. Our cognitive biases can influence our decision in regard to the perceived importance of the flight, our inflated assessment of our abilities, our underestimation of the risk, and other factors. By moving our decisions from the subjective to the objective we can largely avoid those human influences that work on an unconscious level in our brains.
Two tools are valuable in helping us to make our decisions based on facts rather than subjective evaluation. This section will present the Personal Minimums Checklist (PMC) and the Flight Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT). Pilots will typically choose one of the two. Both tools accomplish the same goal and both must be customized to the individual pilot and the aircraft. Pilots flying more than one aircraft type may need two tools, one for each type. The tools must be adjusted periodically to reflect changes in the pilot's capability.
The Personal Minimums Checklist
The personals minimums checklist is something that we create for ourselves through honest, realistic analysis of our comfort level in several areas. Once completed, it can be shared with passengers days before a flight to make them aware that the flight is contingent upon several factors and that they should make alternate plans should the flight be cancelled.
The Flight Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT)
The FRAT is used extensively in business aviation. Customized for each kind of airplane, it lists items that are not open to interpretation and assigns a numerical risk value to them. For example, a surface wind greater than 15 knots might assign a risk value of 2, while the pilot having flown less than 5 hours in the past 30 days might assign a risk value of 3. The assigned risk values are totaled and compared to a previously determined total value. If the risk value for the proposed flight exceeds the predetermined total value, the flight must not go. Sometimes it may be possible to make a change to the flight so that the risk value is reduced. For example, perhaps having any part of the flight occurring at night might have a risk value of 5. If the flight can be scheduled and executed such that no night flying is involved, the total risk value would be reduced by 5 and might now fall within the acceptable range. That is not to say that we should be looking for ways to circumvent the FRAT risk score. But if we can find ways to actually reduce the risk, we are making the flight safer.
There might also be some items which solely assign a no-go to the flight. That might include the pilot taking any medication containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl, etc.).
Nothing contained in a FRAT or any other tool should be construed as permission to violate any regulation. The sample FRAT contains the following in the Aircraft Section: “Has not had an annual inspection in the past 12 months” with a risk value of 8 assigned. Flying an aircraft that does not have a current annual inspection seems contrary to regulations, but there are circumstances in which it is legal. For example, the FAA can issue a ferry permit to allow a pilot to relocate an airplane from where it is located to a place where an annual inspection can be performed. The flight is legal, but it carries a higher risk because of the lack of inspection. A few other items have similar conditions.
For the FRAT to be effective, it must be developed well before a flight is scheduled when there is no external pressure. Then it must be followed to the letter with no deviation allowed for any reason.