Risk vs Reward: GO/NO GO decision making

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go no go decisionsRisk vs Reward: GO/NO GO decision-making
Every single flight you take is laden with decisions. Most of them are accounted for in regulatory guidance, operating procedures, training, or just common sense. One decision that makes the rest of these decisions go away and stops the error chain is one of the hardest to make – do I cancel today’s flight?

I have faced this many times in my career and it sounds easy enough, but I am always struck by how hard it is to do in practice.

For this discussion, we’ll exclude professional flying. Why? Because there are trips that I would execute in a professional setting that I would never consider in my personal flying (this may not be true for everyone, in every situation). Every professional operation is unique and has its own built-in risk mitigators.

You have heard the term “personal minimums” and generally this is applied to ceiling/visibility to conduct a cross-country flight. It can also be applied to wind. This is an excellent way to ease the burden of a NO GO decision – if you hold to it.


night flight

Risk vs. Reward
I was faced with this last Saturday. I wanted badly to go fly my RV-8. I planned a flight with  several of my buddies to meet up down at Sporty’s in Cincinnati and it was a beautiful day with clear skies and a high near 50F, unheard of in January. There was one problem, the wind was forecast to be out of the southwest 20G30 kts – I pulled the plug.

Why? The RV can handle that much wind.

My decision factors:

  • I fly off a 25′ wide paved north/south runway (airplane is based there so can’t mitigate that risk)
  • I haven’t flown the RV since Dec 1st so my proficiency is questionable

I have to admit, canceling should have been a no-brainer, but my ego kept nagging me.

It takes discipline and a certain level of maturity to not follow the wrong path – 20 years ago, I would have flown…

When you are trying to decide to cancel a particular flight, you need to balance the risk with the reward. If all I’m doing is getting a $100 hamburger, my reward is pretty low so I shouldn’t accept a lot of risk. Conversely, if I’m flying to my son’s college graduation, I’m going to be compelled to accept more risk to execute the flight. Is this the right approach? Should we ever accept more risk ever?

The answer depends on a few things:

  • How proficient am I?
  • Is my airplane in good condition and have the right capabilities for the flight (mission-capable)?
  • Have I done everything possible to mitigate the risk?

Risk Mitigation is a whole other sub-category that can help you get the flight done and still save your skin. Some simple examples:

  • Change the time and get better conditions (day VFR vs. night IFR)
  • Change the route to get better conditions and/or terrain
  • Use more suitable airport(s)
  • Take along an instructor or another qualified pilot (I had a student that did this with much success)
  • Use a more suitable aircraft
  • Maximize your proficiency prior to the day of the flight
  • Make sure you are familiar with all of the information pertinent to the flight (wx, NOTAMs, etc)
  • Ensure you have options: Can you make a fuel stop? Are there suitable weather divert airports nearby?

If you can’t mitigate the risk suitably (subjective), you as pilot-in-command need to seriously consider not going. This can apply to a cross-country trip, a test flight, a $100 hamburger, or even a joy ride.

This is certainly not a complete list of things to consider in your decision-making and risk mitigation, but I hope it spurs some thought the next take you are faced with a marginal flight.

What techniques do you use for making the GO/NO GO decision?

by Brent


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