PAVE: A Personal Minimums Checklist for Risk Management

Pilot Cell Phone Use
Pilot using cell phone. Getty/Katja Kircher

We love acronyms, and the PAVE acronym paves the way for a personal minimums checklist for pilots. Each letter of the acronym stands for a different risk factor associated with flying: personal, aircraft, environment and external pressures. As part of the risk management process, these risk factors should be identified, and the pilot should decide what his or her personal minimums for flight should be based on his self-assessment.

The PAVE checklist is meant to be used during the preflight planning stage of a flight.

Pilots are taught risk management in all aspects of aviation. In recent years, the idea of single-pilot resource management (SRM) has become an important topic in aviation due to the rising number of technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) being manufactured.

Airliners and large aircraft have always had complex systems that required a high level of risk management and safety awareness; now smaller aircraft cockpits are being equipped with these advanced systems, too. In the meantime, the FAA's flight training standards haven't changed much over the years, meaning the same pilot that learned how to fly in an airplane with traditional instruments isn't required to get additional training for an aircraft with advanced equipment on board.

Many aircraft accidents have been the result of not identifying the risks associated with that specific flight before they occur.

Pilots are often caught off-guard by things they should have planned for, such as weather conditions or problems interpreting a piece of advanced technology. The risks associated with flying come from many different places including the pilot himself, the aircraft, the surrounding environment and external pressures involved with each person's unique situation.

These risk factors can affect the safety of flight, and each one should be assessed by the pilot before a flight.

One of the benefits to using the PAVE checklist is that it allows for pilots to set their personal minimums and stick to them. Each person will have different minimums based on many their specific flight experience, health habits and tolerance for stress, to name a few. A pilot's minimums will change over time -- as they become comfortable in a particular airplane or environment, for example -- but should never be modified or reduced just to rationalize the desire to get off the ground.

Personal

Personal minimums will include pilot health and experience and can be evaluated in depth with the I'M SAFE checklist. How many hours of sleep do you usually need to function well? Are you healthy? Have you battled any illness or are you on any medications? How much flight experience do you have in the aircraft you're about to fly? How many hours have you flown in the past week/month/year? Are you rusty? Stressed? All of these factors can affect your flight.

Aircraft

Is the aircraft airworthy? Did it undergo any inspections recently? Do you have the fuel necessary? Are you comfortable with the weight and balance and performance for the flight?

Do you know the aircraft limitations? Do you have current charts? Is the GPS up-to-date?

EnVironment 

What's the weather like? Are you comfortable and experienced enough to fly in the forecast weather conditions? Have you considered all your options and left yourself an "out"? Are you instrument-current? Are you comfortable with the type of approaches available to you? Did you check PIREPs and NOTAMs? Are you at comfortable flying in busy airspace or on edge about the air traffic control situation? Does the aircraft have heat or air conditioning? Are you familiar with the terrain?

External Pressures

Are you stressed or anxious? Is this a flight that will cause you to be stressed or anxious? Is there pressure to get to your destination quickly? Do you have a plan B? Are you dealing with difficult passengers or an unhealthy safety culture?

Are you being honest with yourself and others about your pilot abilities and limitations?