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Introduction to Safety Risk Management

#FlySafe GA Safety Enhancement Topic

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
5 min readJan 11


Civil aviation organizations, air carriers, and U.S. military services have embraced Safety Risk Management — a foundational component of all safety management systems. Single-pilot operations can also enjoy the benefits of safer, more efficient flying through the application of risk management processes.

Risk management is a formalized way of dealing with hazards. It is a logical process of evaluation where you weigh the potential costs of a risk against the potential benefits you might receive if you allowed that risk to stand uncontrolled. In order to better understand risk management, the terms “hazard” and “risk” need to be understood.

“FlySafe — Risk management helps pilots to identify, assess, and adequately mitigate hazards during a flight.” A hand holding a mobile phone with a FRAC on it.
Risk management helps pilots to identify, assess, and adequately mitigate hazards during flight.

A hazard is a present condition, event, object, or circumstance that could lead to or contribute to an unplanned or undesired event such as an accident. It is a source of danger. Examples of common aviation hazards include a nick in the propeller blade, improper refueling of an aircraft, pilot fatigue, and the use of unapproved hardware on the aircraft.

Risk is the future influence of hazards on safe operations. In other words, risk is an educated estimate of the chances that a given hazard might negatively affect our operations.

A scale labeled “RISK” that goes from Low to High.

If pilots do not recognize a hazard and choose to continue, the involved risk is not managed.

Risk management is a three-step process that people use to:

  • identify hazards,
  • assess how likely those hazards are to negatively impact their operations, and
  • reduce the chances that those hazards will cause an accident.

Step 1: Hazard Identification

What conditions or circumstances could negatively affect your flight?

Step 2: Risk Assessment

How likely the identified hazards to cause a problem and how severe are the consequences be if they do?

Step 3: Risk Mitigation

What can you do to reduce the risks to acceptable levels?

Another way to remember these steps is to use the 3P risk management process.

The three P’s (Perceive, Process, Perform) in a wheel labeled “Aeronautical Decision-Making.”

First you Perceive or identify the hazard. Then you Process the hazard by assessing the likelihood of it occurring, assessing the severity of the consequences if it does, and developing a plan to mitigate it. Then you Perform or execute your plan to change the situation in your favor.

But we’re not done there. We need to constantly monitor the hazards and risks associated with our flight to make sure that the identified risks remain at an acceptable level. You’ll want to then Perceive the effectiveness of your mitigation plan. Are you getting the results you expected? If not, Process and Perform any adjustments to the plan. It’s a continuous process.

Flight Risk Assessment Tools (FRAT)

Because every flight has some level of risk, it is critical that pilots are able to differentiate, in advance, between a low-risk flight and a high-risk flight, and then establish a review process and develop risk mitigation strategies. A Flight Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT) enables proactive hazard identification, is easy to use, and can visually depict risk. It is an invaluable tool in helping pilots make better go/no-go decisions and should be a part of every flight.

A hand holding a mobile phone with a FRAT open.
An app-based FRAT tool that uses the PAVE checklist.

Although designs can vary, FRATs generally ask a series of questions that help identify and quantify risk for a flight. The FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) currently offers a FRAT tool that follows the PAVE checklist, covering questions on the Pilot, Aircraft, enViroment, and External Pressures.

Pilot, Aircraft, Environment, extreme pressure

For example, you may be asked how much rest you’ve had, how much time you’ve had in the aircraft, and what the weather conditions are for your destination. Based on the answers you supply, a total risk score is calculated.

No FRAT can anticipate all the hazards that may impact a particular flight, but there are some common hazards that GA pilots encounter regularly.

The FAASTeam’s easy-to-use and GA-focused FRAT can get you started in effective safety risk management. The FRAT tool is currently available as an automated spreadsheet available at https://go.usa.gov/xkhJK.

FAASTeam Videos

FAASTeam Risk Management Safety Minute Video
Risk Management Training Video


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FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).