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Risk Management Matrix

High Risk Situations

A number of phases of the flight have more risk than others. Most of us realize that the takeoff and especially the landing are more dangerous due to being close to the ground at lower speeds. With not enough speed or altitude in the form of kinetic energy to be able to do something about the situation should anything happen.

This requires the pilot to be aware of a number of factors enabling him to assess the situation and keep clear from any danger to the flight.

The list we present below is not exhaustive or applies to all flight operations, private or commercial. It is intended to be used as a guide for VFR pilots in low and slow aircraft. Reference should also be made to the risk management handbook from the FAA.

Factors to avoid

Sources say that should the pilot be able to avoid these mishaps or high risk situations, more than 90 % of the aviation accidents can be avoided. Below you wil find the list in more detail, study it and become a safer pilot. The FAA published its handbook about Risk Management FAA-H-8083-2, its 112 pages long but well worth your time.


This is an important factor when flying VFR. Plan your flight with enough margin to handle delays and along terrain to allow for a diversion in VMC should the weather forecast be wrong for your intended route.

VFR into IMC

When flying into marginal VMC conditions it easy for a pilot to press on and continue when weather is not cooperating with his or her plans. The results are usually not so pretty. For a detailed discussion, see our next article about loss of control in IMC.


This like driving with your car along a road so familiar for you, that a couple of minutes later you can not remember having driven a certain stretch. With flying the situation is different, it encompasses total familiarity with the aircraft and or the approach procedure that you expect one thing and totally miss a suddenly arising potentially dangerous situation.

Flying with an autopilot can result in the same high risk situation, the pilot may become so dependent on that device that hand flying the aircraft becomes dangerous to the point that passing a competency check is doubtful. Autopilots are very helpful devices but they can fail too or do things the pilot doesn't expect them to do due to wrong input data, without warning.

Avoiding complacency is done by keeping a healthy skepticism about everything you do and ATC asks of you and what is going on around you at all times, basically: keep the brain working and ask yourself: "Does this makes sense?".

Runway Incursion

Aircraft landing at the wrong runway does happen every now and then. When flying into controlled airports you must read back all clearance instructions from ATC. Also, the ATIS calls out the wind and runway in use. Paying attention and careful listening to ATC should prevent runway incursions. And, ask if not sure.

Uncontrolled airports see a small number of aircraft legally flying without a radio, they should overfly the airport looking for the windsock or any other indication and determining the traffic flow. Without clear communications runway incursion is possible here.

During taxi on an unfamiliar airport ask for progressive taxi instructions, this will make sure that the controller keeps an eye out and he/she will issue directions to where you should park.

Takeoff with a known problem

Sometimes aircraft takeoff with a know mechanical or other problem. This a non issue if that defect is covered by a minimum equipment list (MEL). But these lists are usually not used in small personal or general aviation aircraft.

Your problem might be a nonoperational second navigation radio or a malfunctioning GPS, as long as you are flying VFR with a current map, this is all legal. Aviation regulations state the minimum equipment for all aircraft, as long as the defect does not affect these, you're good to go. But the risk level will be slightly higher.

Midair Collision

Near Miss

This can be avoided, or at least greatly minimized: make sure the windows are clean, keep looking outside the aircraft (scanning), switching on the strobe lights and contacting flight information services with an active transponder. This risk is higher when flying near airports or dedicated flight training and aerobatics areas.

Aircraft involved in flight training have a higher risk due to the fact that the instructor might be busy watching his student more than looking outside. Also, pilot training for their IFR rating might use radio calls and positions that are not familiar to VFR pilots. Unambiguous clear position reports are really helpful to all.

Terrain Separation

Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents result from situational awareness. Keeping a watchful eye on your altitude especially in mountain areas is important. Make it a habit to call out your altitude when climbing or descending.

Every flight map contains so called Minimum Safe Altitudes (MSA) or Maximum Elevation Figures (MEF). Make note of these along your flight track during preflight. They are also sometimes called Minimum Obstacle Clearance Altitude (MOCA) or when flying IFR: Minimum Enroute Altitude (MEA). Yes, confusing.

Make a note of all obstacles when planning your trip, so that you can really identify them. Also, using higher personal weather minimums when flying over rugged or unfamiliar terrain will greatly enhance flight safety and reduce the risk.

Unstable Approach

A good landing follows a good and stable approach to the runway. More so when flying IFR and breaking out of the clouds just above the minimum descent altitude (MDA). For VFR pilots flying the circuit or pattern at the correct altitude, trimmed on speed and distance from the active runway will result in a stable descent and safe touchdown without any added risks.

If you are able to avoid these situations then you should be able stay safe without introducing any unnecessary risk during your flying career.

Written by EAI.

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