Threat and Error Management for the GA Pilot

“Threat and Error Management” has become synonymous with the airline industry and particularly within the major carriers who, due to the sheer scale of operations, require structured solutions to risk.

This does not mean we are risk adverse as an industry; it can’t by the very nature of what we do. But it does mean we have to manage risk in a way that always keeps us in the middle of the envelope.

Airline pilots
Threat and error management grew up in the airline world, but that doesn’t mean GA pilots can’t adopt the same principles.

Threats are often defined as external (weather, commercial pressures, and poor airfield lighting, for example) and internal (such as fatigue and loss of situational awareness, in other words, human factors).

Extensive training in an airline environment equips individuals with the skills to identify and mitigate threats as a team. Cross checking within a multi-crew flight deck also brings in the right level of “pressure checking” to ensure that the best course of action is identified.

So where does this sit within the general aviation community?

In some instances, I would argue, extremely well.

There are GA pilots who recognise the significance of Threat and Error Management coupled with their overriding desire to stay alive!

GA is and in my mind remains one of the most challenging segments within the industry in which to operate safely. You may well ask why? For it certainly is not through a lack of willingness or desire to attain the same levels of safety the airlines experience.

The spread within GA of equipment and capabilities is vast, from high performance piston singles, to turbine aircraft capable of operating in the stratosphere.

Therein, I believe, lies the problem.

Manufacturers will supply and sell you whatever you want—after all that’s business!

We, however, as individuals have to be honest with ourselves and those around us as to what exactly we are capable of delivering. That is a tough deliverable.

We in effect have to put our hands up and say, “sorry, this is beyond my personal capabilities.”

The way to mitigate that risk is to surround ourselves with subject matter experts and seek out additional knowledge, whether it be technical or training.

This could be from a flight school or flying club. Perhaps other operators of the type at your home field can help? Or even an aircraft owners association, all of which can provide both operational knowledge and most importantly provide a check and a balance. In other words, it is about it becoming a team effort, which is what happens daily in the airlines.

Cirrus jet
The airplane can handle it, but can the pilot?

Using online flight planning tools can help with identifying forecast IFR and icing conditions, for example. Manufacturers’ maintenance programmes can, in some cases, ensure a third party has oversight of your investment, not just your local mechanic.

Some of this obviously comes at a cost. But when you conduct a cost benefit analysis, the cost has to be measured directly against the safety benefits to you, your family, and your colleagues.

An eminent surgeon has been working all week, including some night shifts.

On the Friday evening, having arrived at the airport late, he hurriedly preflights his high performance Cirrus.

He feels obligated to make the flight as he promised his wife a weekend at their favourite coastal resort.

As the aircraft climbs away, night begins to envelope as the first flash illuminates the horizon from the embedded thunderstorms topping out at FL350 over the coast.

What would you do?

This in turn leads to the question…

What are you going to do this year to enhance the safety of your GA flying?

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