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Identifying and Managing Risks in Aviation

Dear Fellow Pilots,

As pilots we all know in our hearts that flying can be a risky activity. But sadly, identifying and managing the risks associated with flying is not intuitive. For most pilots, recognizing and mitigating flying risks is something we have to learn. Until now there has been little motivation for flight instructors to learn or teach these techniques, since risk management has not been a subject covered by FAA Knowledge or Practical Tests.

That is about to change. Over the next year or so, the FAA will be transitioning from the current Practical Test Standards (PTS) to new Airmen Certification Standards (ACS) for each pilot certificate and rating—and the ACS will require a solid understanding of aviation risk management. The reason for the name change is that the role of the ACS has been expanded. The new ACS will now set standards for all the aeronautical knowledge required for both the knowledge tests and the practical tests. Plus, for the first time the ACS will require applicants to demonstrate their ability to identify and mitigate the risks of flight.

King Schools has been a participant in this transition through years of advocacy and hard work as a member of the FAA/Industry working group that brought about this change. We fully expect that the ACS knowledge standards will increase the quality of the test questions, and that requiring pilots to learn tools to manage risk will help significantly to increase aviation safety.

Many years ago, an unfortunate accident led Martha and me to reevaluate our approach to flying and become born-again aviation risk managers. In 2005, we took the tools and techniques that we developed to manage flying risk, and introduced a series of courses on Practical Risk Management. The 5 courses in the series are now all available online, making it is easier than ever to get this important information.

Whether you are working on your first pilot certificate or have been flying for years, risk management is a topic that should be revisited on a regular basis. It is the master-key to safe, fun flying. That is why we have worked so hard to ensure it becomes part of the FAA standards for all pilot certificates and ratings. Since the new ACS will require it, every pilot should consider risk management as part of their ongoing education.

Happy Flying,
John and Martha

P.S. You will find our risk management series follow this link
P.P.S If you want to learn more about the accident that made us born-again risk managers, watch our talk on “How to Avoid Unwanted Adventure”.


  1. Jim Volner

    The new knowledge areas seem like SMS which the FAA is pushing to all its commercial operators.
    The PTS shows that an applicant can manipulate the machine not demonstrate his ability to analyze the outcome of his actions, or lack of action.

  2. Kenneth Stephens

    I applaud your proactive approach to risk management. In my consulting work, I have supported government agencies on examination of errors made by pilots and by nuclear power plant operators. The principles are universal , and many are independent of the work itself. Human beings naturally make mistakes, but there are things that can be done to manage that risk, such as improvements in the human/machine interface, redundancy, checklists, etc.

    Thank you for your role in managing risk. Clearly, quality of training is one of the big items.

    Ken Stephens
    Augusta, GA

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