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Aviation Hazard Identification

by Flight Learnings

in Human Factors

In order to identify a hazard, it would be useful to define what a hazard is. The FAA System Safety course defines a hazard as: “a present condition, event, object, or circumstance that could lead or contribute to an unplanned or undesired event.”  Put simply, a hazard is a source of danger. Potential hazards may be identified from a number of internal and external sources. These may be based upon several concurrent factors that provide an indication and ultimate identification of a hazard. Consider the following situations:

Situation 1

The pilot has just taken off and is entering the clouds. Suddenly, there is an explosive sound. The sudden noise is disturbing and occurs as the pilot is given a new heading, a climb restriction, and the frequency for the departure control.

Situation 2

The pilot took off late in a rented aircraft (first time flying this model), and is now in night conditions due to the delay, and flying on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan in IMC conditions. The radios do not seem to work well and develop static. They seem to be getting weaker. As the pilot proceeds, the rotating beacon stops flashing/rotating, and the lights become dimmer. As the situation progresses, the pilot is unaware of the problem because the generator warning light, (on the lower left of the panel) is obscured by the chart on the pilot’s lap.

Both situations above represent hazards that must be dealt with differently and a level of risk must be associated with each depending on various factors affecting the flight.

Risk Analysis

Risk is defined as the future impact of a hazard that is not eliminated or controlled. It is the possibility of loss or injury.  Risk analysis is the process whereby hazards are characterized by their likelihood and severity. Risk analysis evaluates the hazards to determine the outcomes and how abrupt that outcome will occur. The analysis applied will be qualitative to the degree that time allows resulting in either an analytical or automatic approach in the decision-making process.

In the first situation, the decision may be automatic: fly the airplane to a safe landing. Since automatic decision-making is based upon education and experience, an inexperienced pilot may react improperly to the situation which results in an inadequate action. To mitigate improper decision-making, immediate action items from emergency procedures should be learned. Training, education, and mentorship are all key factors in honing automatic decision-making skills.

In the second situation, if the pilot has a flashlight onboard, it can be used for illumination, although its light may degrade night vision. After changing the appropriate transponder code, and making calls in the blind, awareness of present location becomes imperative, especially if the pilot must execute a controlled descent to VMC conditions. Proper preflight planning conducted before departure and constant awareness of location provide an element of both comfort (reduces stress) and information from which the pilot can draw credible information.

In both cases, the outcomes can be successful through systems understanding, emergency procedures training, and correctly analyzing the risks associated with each course of action.

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