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You Can Take It With You: Mobile Apps for Risk Management

By June Tonsing

Reprinted with permission from FAA Safety Briefing

It wasn’t that long ago when pilots did most of their flight planning and go/no-go decision-making at home, with (hopefully, anyway) a final check and assessment at the departure airport. The proliferation of mobile devices and associated apps for flight planning, weather briefing, and flight monitoring/tracking has drastically changed that picture. Today’s pilots have a plethora of aviation apps to choose from and, though it can be a challenge to select the “best” one, the price point of most allows for no- or low-cost experimentation.

If you use any of today’s mobile devices in your flight planning, you have probably populated your machine with at least basic flight planning apps. But did you know that there are also a number of risk assessment apps available? I initially made that discovery when I acquired an iPhone, and by the time I had also obtained an iPad, there were even more – easily findable by searching with keywords like “flight risk.”

Finding the Right App

Because “best” is a highly individual notion when it comes to tools and apps, I won’t attempt to review or suggest specific apps. But here are a few tips to consider as you seek to sort, sift and select the one that’s right for you.

One factor you might consider is the app’s survey method. Risk has many manifestations and the risk assessment apps I’ve found reflect that fact in the range of survey methods. One version uses a simple one-screen template with five wheels based on the PADEU formula: Pilot, Aircraft, Duration, Environment, and Urgency. The app lets you select a number from one to four in each category, and it then calculates a cumulative total for overall flight risk value. This one is very straightforward, easy to use, and quick enough to encourage more frequent use (e.g., right before a flight).

A more complex offering asks the pilot first to provide basic flight information, such as departure date, departure airport, arrival airport, tail number, etc. It then requires a “yes” or “no” response to more than 35 questions, many of which align with the safety limitations for 14 CFR part 135 certificate holders. For instance, the question topics include:

Captain with less than 300 hours in type

Scheduled duty day greater than 12 hours

MEL /CDL Items (items related to safety of flight)

Arrival airport: Circling approaches (best approach available)

Arrival airport: No published approaches

Departure/Arrival airport: Elevation greater than 3,000 MSL

Departure/Arrival airport: Contaminated runway

Departure/Arrival airport: Night Operation

Departure/Arrival airport: Crosswinds greater than 15 knots forecast

In apps like this one, each answer factors into a total risk score. If the total risk score reaches a pre-set value, the app suggests contacting the chief pilot. In the more robust apps, you also have the option to email, print, or save the results of your risk assessment work. Although the more complex risk assessment apps take more time to use, they can be very valuable in helping you think through a more complete range of hazards and risk factors. And, though some were developed for commercial operations, there is no reason they can’t be beneficial for personal flying as well.

The choice is yours, but please do choose and (more importantly) use a risk assessment app as a standard part of your flight planning and monitoring activity. It doesn’t take long to take a moment for safety!

June Tonsing is a member of the FAASTeam staff. She is an Airline Transport Pilot, CFI and actively flies GA Aircraft.