Managing Risk during Flight Instruction

Instructors know the need to manage risk during flight instruction. The risk management techniques are the same as taught to learners, however, there are a few hazards that are unique to flight instruction. The resulting risk can be identified, assessed, and mitigated. For example:
  • Ask the learner to fly specific maneuvers after giving appropriate training.
  • Choose practice locations that provide safe options.
  • Perform maneuvers with sufficient altitude.
  • Stay alert for the unexpected either from the learner or external elements.
  • Be prepared to take over the control of the aircraft.

In flight, instructors can manage risk by constantly being aware of potential risk elements and managing them in real time. To do this, the instructor needs to maintain situational awareness of pertinent information, not only of the state of the aircraft, the surrounding traffic, the weather, the airspace, and the surrounding area; but also what the learner is doing and planning to do.

Common Flight Instruction Risks

The best process for analyzing flight instruction risks is to identify them as you would on any other flight, using the PAVE acronym. There may be many potential risks to conducting flight instruction. The examples below are only meant to be representative. Instructors should always conduct a risk analysis prior to providing instruction.

Pilot Risks

This category involves both qualification and aeromedical risks. From a qualification perspective, instructors know that the learner will generally be less proficient than the instructor. Instructors may also have qualification, currency, and proficiency issues. Instructors should be familiar with aircraft, avionics, and procedures. Any unfamiliarity creates a hazard. The aeromedical risks require the instructor to be tuned in to not only his own aeromedical state, but that of the learner.

During flight instruction, pilot risk includes both the learner pilot and the instructor pilot. The instructor needs to be prepared for the learner to make mistakes such as those listed in the Airplane Flying. The risks of these mistakes can be mitigated by being proactive in planning activities based on current conditions, and by allowing enough time and space both to allow the learner to practice and to allow the instructor to take over control of the aircraft before the situation deteriorates beyond the instructor’s ability to fly the aircraft.

Aircraft Risks

Aircraft used in flight instruction may not always be under the direct control and maintenance supervision of the instructor, resulting in the instructor not being aware of inoperative systems and equipment or overdue inspections. For two-place trainer aircraft, payload is often limited, requiring a reduction in the amount of fuel carried. Performance may also be marginal in high density-altitude situations.

Environmental Risks

The airspace used for flight training and practice may be crowded, creating a potential collision hazard. Many areas of the country where flight instruction is conducted often have restricted visibility due to haze, pollution, or other factors that aggravate a potential collision hazard. Airspace in these areas may also be complex and subject to restrictions. Conducting certain maneuvers can also create hazards and potential risks. For example, practicing full stalls can result in inadvertent spins. Simulated engine failures, if performed incorrectly, can and have created real emergencies and caused accidents. Practice approaches without ATC surveillance can concentrate aircraft along the same path.

External Pressure Risks

Learners often experience scheduling problems, and this can be aggravated by aircraft problems, weather issues, and other unpredictable events. Learners are also subject to other external pressures involving work, family, finance, and other issues. All of these can create distractions, anxiety, and other responses that can degrade learner performance.

Best Practices for Managing Risk during Flight Instruction

Instructors can best assess and mitigate identified risks by following the risk management procedures outlined in this site. In all cases, the instructor should include the learner in the risk management during dual instruction. For example, the instructor should emphasize that they are both responsible for maintaining a lookout to see and avoid other air traffic. The learner should also be instructed on how to assist resolving items such as aircraft airworthiness status and issues involving the training environment, such as airspace, NOTAMs, or TFRs.

Specific mitigations for the instructional hazards and risks identified in previous paragraphs include, but are not limited to, the following procedures.

Pilot Risks

The instructor’s qualifications are paramount in mitigating currency and proficiency issues. Instructors should familiarize themselves with aircraft models and avionics before instructing. This could be as simple as reviewing the pilot operating handbook (POH) or avionics manuals or as extensive as acquiring flight time in such equipment before giving instruction.

Instructor aeromedical risks should be constantly monitored using the IMSAFE model. Similarly, the instructor should communicate with the learner to establish a confidence level that will encourage learners to come forward to disclose their own aeromedical issues well in advance of scheduled flights, so that they may be rescheduled if necessary.

Aircraft Risks

The instructor should determine the aircraft’s official airworthiness status before scheduled flights and before conducting the actual preflight. Unless instructing in their own aircraft, instructors should be familiar with the aircraft operator’s procedures for reporting and correcting discrepancies and review the current discrepancy report. Any questions regarding airworthiness status should be resolved with maintenance personnel before conducting the preflight inspection. The instructor should consider involving the learner in this process and should emphasize that it is intended to manage risk by reducing the likelihood and/or severity of potential hazards and risks arising from failed equipment.

Environmental Risks

Environmental risks are one of the most frequent causes of accidents. These notably include risks generated by weather, terrain, and night operation hazards and additionally include airports, airspace, and other environmental factors. All these hazards and risks will likely come into play at some point during the instruction process. Accordingly, instructors should emphasize accurate assessment and mitigation of such risks when providing instruction.

The instructor should involve the learner in every step of the assessment and mitigation process. For example, the weather may be marginal VFR. If the scheduled dual instruction called for practicing stalls and slow flight, the instructor should coach the learner to identify the risks involved in conducting stall practice under such conditions, such as inadvertently entering IMC or practicing stalls at too low an altitude. The instructor and learner can discuss ways to mitigate the risk, such as changing the lesson plan to stay in the traffic pattern, conducting a lesson in a flight simulation training device or ground school, or rescheduling the lesson altogether.

External Pressure Risks

External pressures can create the most insidious of hazards and risks. Instructors should ease learner concerns about schedule conflicts with events in their professional and personal lives. Instructors should be conscious of each learner’s schedule limitations and other external factors that could affect their performance. Instructors should also emphasize the ability to make schedule changes as needed, change training from an airplane to classroom instruction, or terminate a lesson early if the learner appears apprehensive about time pressures or other external concerns.

Notes on Instructional Risk Management in the Flight Deck

The instructor is involved with risk management on multiple levels, which include not only managing the risk of a particular phase of flight or maneuver, but also teaching risk management and managing the risks of providing in-flight instruction. Some concepts an instructor should bear in mind while teaching most maneuvers include:
  • Identify relevant hazards systematically and keep track of hazards during maneuvering (the learner manipulating controls may be a significant hazard).
  • Avoid creating a hazard by attempting to teach something at an inappropriate time (e.g., discussing takeoff technique while entering the runway, when attention should be devoted to aircraft control and ensuring that the runway is clear) or at an inappropriate altitude (e.g., teaching stalls below a cloud layer, which does not allow an adequate amount of altitude to recover).
  • Discuss hazards and risk mitigation in detail during preflight and postflight.
  • Prompt the learner to identify hazards in flight and on their own and to verbalize thought processes and risk mitigations (e.g., while preparing to execute a ground reference maneuver, ask the learner to identify potential collision hazards and a safe place to make an emergency landing).

The following discussion contains examples of instructor considerations while providing in-flight instruction on various maneuvers. Among other things, the examples demonstrate the extent to which instructional techniques and instructional risk management are interconnected, and why a systematic, integrated approach to risk management provides safety.

Managing Risk while Teaching Takeoffs

The time it takes for an aircraft to begin its takeoff and initiate a climb is only a matter of seconds. There may not be time to teach effectively during the takeoff. Apart from introducing unnecessary hazards (e.g., missing a radio transmission from tower), the learner’s attention is placed almost entirely on trying to safely maneuver the aircraft. Any information an instructor is trying to convey during the takeoff may not be heard or processed by the learner. The instructor should conduct the majority of their teaching (e.g. airspeeds, pitch attitudes, visual references, flight control inputs, engine parameters) prior to contacting tower or announcing their intentions on the CTAF at a non-towered airport. This will avoid over-stimulating the learner’s senses, help maintain a sterile flight deck, and support situational awareness and collision avoidance.

When teaching a learner to take off, it is imperative that the instructor create realistic scenarios of takeoff types. The scenario should not create hazards that result in the learner attempting to maintain an unsafe climb rate or excessive pitch attitude. An effective scenario should mimic what a learner will encounter outside of flight training. For example, if the instructor wants to prompt the learner to conduct a confined or obstacle clearance takeoff, the instructor could specify where an (imaginary) obstacle exists. The point where the obstacle exists should be realistic. During soft-field takeoffs in an airplane, the instructor should monitor aircraft drift while the learner is trying to remain in ground effect. The instructor should not let the drift escalate beyond the learner’s control and should pay close attention to pitch attitude and airspeed throughout the maneuver.

Insufficient spacing from preceding aircraft during takeoffs also creates various hazards. Some hazards include wake turbulence, insufficient in-trail spacing, and insufficient separation from an aircraft approaching to land. The instructor ensures that there is sufficient spacing from landing and departing aircraft prior to entering any space being used for departures and arrivals. This will also help teach the learner sound decision making and risk management skills.

Managing Risk while Teaching Landings

Many complex decisions are made during the landing phase. Novice learner pilots have little experience to rely on. Instructors sometimes fall prey to teaching landings mechanically. Instead, it is necessary to convey problems and solutions (power, control, and configuration changes) based on what is actually happening on that specific approach. When an instructor teaches mechanically, they cause the learner to be ill-equipped to identify or manage constantly changing conditions. This teaching method may result in unstable approaches and faulty landings. The instructor should prompt the learner on the current conditions and how to correct the situation to maintain a stabilized approach. The decision on choosing aiming points and touchdown points should not be made mechanically either. It is the instructor’s responsibility to teach the learner how to pick appropriate aiming and touchdown points based on the type of aircraft, the landing being attempted, the environment and conditions present, and the expected landing performance.

Some of the same hazards associated while teaching takeoffs are also present while teaching landings. The instructor may want to convey a lot of information while simultaneously verifying that the aircraft is being flown safely. This may cause a decrease in attention to collision avoidance or loss of situational awareness. Excessive teaching and coaching on final approach may cause missed radio transmissions from air traffic control or aircraft in the pattern. To avoid this, the instructor should only use concise prompting on approach to landings with the learner.

Certain landings present unique risks. The instructor teaches the appropriate pre-landing reconnaissance for unfamiliar landing areas or uncontrolled fields. During landings in strong winds, the instructor should have the skill sufficient to deal with the wind conditions. During a short-field or confined area landing, certain aircraft may fly at a slower approach speed. The instructor should be aware of any risk associated with flight at slow speeds or any other condition that reduces safety margins. During all types of approaches to landing, instructors need to remain aware of risks associated with a variety of learner errors. For example, if an airplane pilot makes a 180° power-off accuracy approach and landing, the instructor should anticipate potential landing errors. Learners may understand not to sacrifice a stable approach and a safe landing for the sake of accuracy, but they might not be ready to apply that knowledge.

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