Flying involves risk. To stay safe, you need to know how to judge the level of risk, how to minimize it, and when to accept it. This guide introduces risk management tools that a CFI can use and teach their flight training clients.


A hazard is a condition, event, object, or circumstance that could lead to an undesired event – like an accident. For example:

  • Pilot is unfamiliar with local area, procedures, or terrain features.
  • Weather encountered in flight is worse than forecast.
  • Airport has unusual features, such as high terrain or ongoing construction.
  • Flight dispatcher asks you to be sure to return the aircraft on time, because it is needed for someone’s practical test later in the day.

Risk is the potential impact of a hazard that you do not control or eliminate. The level of risk is measured by:

  • the number of people or resources affected (exposure);
  • the extent of possible loss (severity);
  • and likelihood of loss (probability).


A “teachable moment” occurs when a student can clearly see how specific information or skills can be used in the real world. You can find, or create, teachable moments on risk management in every flight training activity: pattern work, airwork in the local practice area, cross-country, flight review, or instrument proficiency check. For example:

Sample Scenario 1

The pilot appears harried, fatigued, or stressed before a flight. Call attention to the consequences (risk) that can arise when the pilot is distracted, and ask what can be done to lower the risk.

Sample Scenario 2

Ask “what-if” questions on the risk of a mechanical issue that is not clearly a “no-go” item:

  • What do you do if you find fuel stains under a wing?
  • What risk arises in a day VFR flight if the vacuum pump is inoperative? (Remember to discuss 14 CFR 91.213!)
Sample Scenario 3

Take the pilot out of his or her comfort zone by going to a place with unfamiliar airports, procedures, or terrain. Use conditions that you find (e.g., out-of-service equipment) to teach the difference between what is legal and what is safe for this particular pilot and aircraft.

Perceive – Process – Perform

The Perceive – Process – Perform model offers a structured way to manage risk:

Perceive hazards by looking at: (The PAVE checklist)

  • Pilot experience, currency, condition
  • Aircraft performance, fuel
  • enVironment (weather, terrain)
  • External pressures (appointments)

Process risk level by considering: (The CARE checklist)

  • Consequences posed by each hazard
  • Alternatives that eliminate hazards
  • Reality (avoid wishful thinking!)
  • External pressures (get-home-itus)

Perform risk management by deciding whether to: (the TEAM checklist)

  • Transfer – can you consult someone?
  • Eliminate – can you remove hazards?
  • Accept — do benefits outweigh risk?
  • Mitigate — can you reduce the risk?


To reinforce the risk management lessons of the flight, ask questions that let the pilot learn by reflecting on his or her actions and decisions at key moments:

  • What went well?
  • What could have been better?
  • What would I do differently?
  • What additional knowledge and skills do I need to safely handle (or avoid) this kind of situation?
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