Like many eateries, my favorite ice cream shop advertises a “flavor of the month.” You can still get vanilla, but the featured flavor is likely to be more exotic. It is also likely that its stay will be as short as its starring role in the display case.
That reality is reflected in the well-worn cliché that dismisses any new idea as the transient “flavor of the month.” It’s true that some ideas are as short-lived as the market for fudge-ripple praline strawberry shortcake (yes, I did make that up), but others have the staying power to become classics, like vanilla.
That applies to aviation ideas as well. Skeptics predict that the current focus on risk management is just “flavor of the month,” but I predict that it’s here to stay. In fact, aviation without risk management should be as unimaginable as an ice cream shop without vanilla. Here’s why.
In Defense of Plain Vanilla. The typical language used to discuss risk management can be as boring as, well, plain vanilla. If you’ll indulge the metaphor for a few more sentences, though, consider this fact: Isn’t plain vanilla exactly what most of us are looking for when we fly? In ice cream shops, we might occasionally be adventurous enough to take the flavor of the month for a taste test, but we more often practice risk management by opting for a flavor known to be “palate-safe.”
It’s the same in flying. Risk management is simply the habit of identifying possible problems, and then taking “pilot-safe” actions that will guarantee a plain vanilla outcome. As for process, risk management can be as complicated, or as simple, as you want to make it. Some people like the quantitative approach, in which the pilot assigns numerical values to each individual hazard. I’ve seen risk management tools that go on for pages.
My personal preference is PAVE, which calls for a simple, but systematic, assessment of risk factors associated with Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, and External pressures. The point is to find something that works for you, and to use it consistently.
Flavor-of-the-Month Flying. Although you certainly want all your flights to have plain vanilla outcomes, let me close by stressing that a solid risk management habit is also key to safely sampling the aviation smorgasbord. Most of my personal flying involves plain vanilla flying in normal-category aircraft. To the extent that my budget allows, though, I indulge my flavor of the month craving for unusual attitudes by zooming around the Arizona desert in an Extra EA300L. The flying is complicated, but the risk management process is plain-vanilla simple: I fly with a highly-experienced instructor Pilot, use an Aircraft built for this kind of activity, enjoy the clear and dry Southwestern flying enVironment, and leave the External pressures on the ground. It’s the key to safe flights and happy landings. (FAA Aviation News JulAug 2009)