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Pilot Decision Making


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making – Managing Risk

Minimizing exposure to flight risks starts during preflight planning when we determine our route, and analyze terrain, weather, and aircraft performance, etc.  For example, we might want to minimize risk by avoiding flight (routes) over water or mountains, poor weather (clouds, low visibility, winds, icing), night flight, and tricky airports (one-way, narrow or short runway, obstacles, windy, high DA).  These are just a few examples and you probably have your own risk items to add.

Recently, I was talking to a pilot about flying around the Bay Area and she mentioned that when crossing the bay, she preferred crossing by the Dumbarton Bridge. I asked why the Dumbarton Bridge route and her answer was interesting. She first learned to fly helicopters, and then transitioned into fixed wing aircraft.  To reduce the risk when crossing water, she preferred to fly the helicopter the shortest distance over water (in case of an emergency landing). The flight distance over the bay water is 6nm at the San Mateo Bridge versus just 1+ nm mile at the Dumbarton Bridge. The two bridges are only 7nm apart, so it is easy to plan the flight route over the bay to use the Dumbarton bridge crossing and minimize the over water distance.

In a similar manner, when crossing mountainous areas pilots have choices to reduce risk by selecting a route with lower terrain (follow the roads) and avoid rugged areas using a similar risk avoidance strategy as the water crossing.

Before and during each flight, think about how you are avoiding risk.