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A Pilot's Guide to Risk Assessment

       During every flight, a solo-flying pilot makes numerous decisions under hazardous conditions. Hazards must be assessed and assigned a degree of risk in order to determine the best course of action and prevent hazards from turning into catastrophic risks.

       Assessing risks as a single pilot is both critical and complicated, since there are no other crew members serving as quality control when it comes to risk assessment. For example, a fatigued single pilot may have flown 8 hours solo in a day and decide to keep flying. Many pilots are goal-oriented and when asked, or when anxious to accept or complete a flight, may do so under less than ideal circumstances. Personal limitations must be taken into account whenever a pilot feels a sense of urgency or obligation to complete a flight. 

The Risk Assessment Matrix is used when assessing risk; it's a helpful tool when evaluating the likelihood and severity of an event.

Likelihood of an event 

Determining the likelihood of an event is taking a situation and determining the probability of its occurrence. There are four ways to rate the likelihood of an event. The following are guidelines for rating the likelihood of an event:

  • Probable—an event will occur several times
  • Occasional—an event will probably occur sometime 
  • Remote—an event is unlikely to occur, but is possible
  • Improbable—an event is highly unlikely to occur

Severity of an event 

Determining the severity of an event is taking a situation and evaluating the consequences of a pilot’s actions. The consequences could be injury to self and/or passengers, damage to aircraft or property, etc. The following are guidelines for rating the severity an event:

  • Catastrophic—results in fatalities, total loss
  • Critical—severe injury, major damage
  • Marginal—minor injury, minor damage
  • Negligible—less than minor injury, less than minor system damage

Determining the likelihood and severity of an event using the Risk Assessment Matrix indicates whether the risk is low, medium, or severe, and is useful to the pilot in determining whether or not to fly. 

There are more comprehensive risk assessment worksheets that can even be tailored to the individual pilot and contain more specific assessments such as pilot health or fatigue, weather, aircraft and pilot capabilities, etc. 

By Engine Sales Representative, Joshua Denton

[Editor’s Note]: Image taken from the FAA Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. 



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