Fitness for Flight


All aeromedical topics are GENERALIZED.
Always consult with a doctor or physician to understand your specific situation

Fitness for Flight Explained:

  • Fitness for flight is nothing more than a determination of readiness to fly
  • It is often subjective, but Tom Hoffmann boils it down to three basic questions in his FAA Safety Briefing article:
    • Am I healthy?
    • Am I legal? And;
    • Am I proficient?
  • Pilots have the responsibility to self-assess their abilities before each flight, made more manageable through checklists such as:

"IM SAFE" Checklist:

  • The IM-SAFE checklist forces pilots to check themselves as any of these factors, individually or in combination, significantly degrade decision-making and flying abilities
    • Illness: Do I have any symptoms?
    • Medication: Have I been taking over-the-counter prescription drugs?
    • Stress: Am I under psychological pressure from the job? Do I have money, health, or family problems?
    • Alcohol: Have I been drinking within 8 hours? Within 24 hours?
    • Fatigue: Am I tired and not adequately rested?
    • Eating/Emotion: Have I eaten enough of the proper foods to stay adequately nourished during the entire flight? Is my head in the right place?
  • Illness:

    • Even a minor illness suffered in day-to-day living can seriously degrade the performance of many piloting tasks vital to safe flight
    • Illness can produce fever and distracting symptoms that can impair judgment, memory, alertness, and the ability to make calculations
      • Although symptoms from an illness may be under adequate control with medication, the medication itself may decrease pilot performance
    • Further, FAR 61.53 even prohibits a pilot from operating an aircraft if the pilot knows of a medical condition that would "make them unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation, or - for those not requiring medical certification - make them unable to operate an aircraft in a safe manner"
    • Sinus block can seriously damage ears and nasal passage (could lose medical)
    • Pilots should not fly until free from all illness
      • The pilot should contact an Aviation Medical Examiner for any further advice
    • Motion Sickness:

      • Both the FAA and AOPA offer several tips to minimize the effects of motion sickness:
        • Before the flight, eat just a light meal a few hours before takeoff
        • Avoid smoking
        • If it's a training flight, know what maneuvers are planned for the lesson so you won't be surprised by "unusual attitude" training. If it's an aerobatics lesson, it's even more important to know the plan
        • Be relaxed with your instructor. Get it to a personal level so there will be a level of trust and good communication before you get to the airplane
        • During the flight, stay focused on the tasks, especially that of maintaining a straight and level attitude
        • If able to pass the controls to another pilot, focus on a point in the distance and avoid unnecessary head movements
        • Keep the vents open to the fresh, cool outside air
        • Use supplemental oxygen if you have it available
  • Medications:

    • Pilot performance can be seriously degraded by both prescribed and over-the-counter medications, as well as by the source medical condition
    • Many medications, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, strong pain relievers, and cough-suppressant preparations, have primary effects that may impair judgment, memory, alertness, coordination, vision, and the ability to make calculations
    • Others, such as antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, muscle relaxants, and agents to control diarrhea and motion sickness, have side effects that may impair the same critical functions
    • Any medication that depresses the nervous system, such as a sedative, tranquilizer, or antihistamine, can make a pilot much more susceptible to hypoxia
    • For aviation safety, airmen should not fly following the last dose of any of the medications below until a period of time has elapsed equal to:
      • 5 times the maximum pharmacologic half-life of the medication; or
      • 5 times the maximum hour dose interval if pharmacologic half-life information is not available. For example, there is a 30-hour wait time for a medication that is taken every 4 to 6 hours (5 times 6)
    • FAR 91.17 prohibits pilots from performing crewmember duties while using any medication that affects the faculties in any way contrary to safety
      • The safest rule is not to fly as a crewmember while taking any medication unless approved to do so by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
      • The pilot should contact an Aviation Medical Examiner for any further advice
    • The FDA offers an online label repository, and the FAA offers a guide for aviation medical examiners for reference
  • Stress:

    • Instrument Flying Handbook. Figure 1-10, Performance and Stress
      Instrument Flying Handbook,
      Performance and Stress
    • Stress is the body's response to demands placed upon it [Figure 1]
    • Pressures of everyday living can occupy the thought process to block out alertness in the cockpit in subtle ways
    • Difficulties, particularly at work, can occupy thought processes enough to decrease alertness markedly
      • Distraction can so interfere with a pilot's judgment that unwarranted risks are taken, for example, flying into deteriorating weather conditions to keep on schedule
      • Stress and fatigue (see below) can be an extremely hazardous combination
    • Initially, it can provide heightened awareness and an increase in performance
    • It is important that when you reach your limit (which EVERYONE has) you call it appropriately
    • Continuous additions of stress will result in a decrease in performance, which interferes with a pilot's judgment and, therefore, lends to unwarranted risks
    • Most pilots do not leave stress "on the ground," and therefore, when experiencing more than usual difficulties, a pilot should consider delaying flight until satisfactorily resolving these difficulties
    • Additionally, some in-flight occurrences can add to the stress, creating an even worse problem
    • Stress and fatigue can be a deadly combination
    • Indicators of excessive stress often show as:
      • Emotional: denial, suspicion, paranoia, agitation, restlessness, or defensiveness
      • Physical: results in acute fatigue
      • Behavioral: sensitivity to criticism, tendency to be argumentative, arrogance, and hostility
    • Techniques that can help reduce stress:
      1. Become knowledgeable about stress
      2. Take a realistic self-assessment (See the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge)
      3. Take a systematic approach to problem-solving
      4. Develop a lifestyle that will buffer against the effects of stress (exercise and eating right is big)
      5. Practice behavior management techniques
      6. Establish and maintain a strong support network
    • Good flight deck stress management begins with good life stress management:
      • Avoid situations that distract from flying the aircraft
      • Reduce flight deck workload to reduce stress levels
      • If a problem occurs, remain calm
      • Become thoroughly familiar with the aircraft, its operation, and emergency procedures
      • Know and respect personal limits
      • If flying adds stress, either stop flying or seek professional help to manage stress within acceptable limits
    • Practice the 3Rs as outlined by Kenneth Stahl, MD, FACS, who writes in AOPA:
      • First, Resist – resist the temptation to execute your first impulse to make a caveman response
      • Stress: Not just For Wing Loads- Part One
      • Second, Relax – take a huge deep breath to use physiology in your favor and wash the acute stress chemicals from your bloodstream
        • Relax your muscles and Roll your eyes back to induce slow beta-wave electrical activity
      • Third, Reassess – refresh the decision-making process as the acute stress reaction clears and reassess options; use knowledge and training, not fight or flight reflexes, to solve the crisis"
  • Alcohol:

    • Extensive research has provided several facts about the hazards of alcohol (and drugs) consumption and flying:
      • As little as one ounce of liquor, one bottle of beer, or four ounces of wine can impair flying skills, with the alcohol consumed in these drinks being detectable in the breath and blood for at least 3 hours
      • Even after the body completely metabolizes a moderate amount of alcohol, a pilot can still be severely impaired for many hours by a hangover
      • There is no way of increasing the destruction of alcohol or alleviating a hangover
      • Alcohol renders a pilot much more susceptible to disorientation and hypoxia
    • A consistently high alcohol-related fatal aircraft accident rate serves to emphasize that alcohol and flying are a potentially lethal combination
    • FAR 91.17 prohibits pilots and remote pilots from performing crewmember duties:
      • For at least 8 hrs after the last drink ("bottle to throttle")
      • While under the influence of alcohol (possibly greater than 8 hours)
      • While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in the blood or breath specimen
        • Concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams per 210 liters of breath
      • Therefore, an excellent rule is to allow at least 12 to 24 hours between "bottle and throttle," depending on the amount of alcoholic beverage consumed
    • Except in an emergency, no pilot of a civil aircraft may allow a person who appears to be intoxicated or who demonstrates by manner or physical indications that the individual is under the influence of drugs (except a medical patient under proper care) to be carried in that aircraft
    • A crew member shall:

      • On request of a law enforcement officer, submit to a test to indicate alcohol concentration in the blood or breath
      • Furnish to the FAA or Administrator, upon their request, the results or authorize its release of tests taken within 4 hours after acting or attempting to act as a crew member that indicates an alcohol/drug concentration in the blood or breath specimen
        • Any test information obtained by the FAA per the above may be evaluated in determining a person's qualifications for any airman certificate or possible violations of this chapter and may be used as evidence in any legal proceeding under sections 602, 609, or 901 of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958
    • Unless authorized by or under any Federal or State statute or by any Federal or State agency, no person may operate a manned or unmanned civil aircraft within the United States with knowledge that narcotic drugs, marijuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances as defined in Federal or State statutes are carried in the aircraft
    • Under 14 CFR 61.15, all pilots must send a Notification Letter (MS Word) to FAA's Security and Investigations Division within 60 calendar days of the effective date of an alcohol-related conviction or administrative action
    • A conviction for the violation of any Federal or State statute relating to the growing, processing, manufacture, sale, disposition, possession, transportation, or importation of narcotic drugs, marijuana, or depressant or stimulant drugs or substances is grounds for:
      • Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of final conviction; or
      • Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating
    • Committing an act prohibited by FAR 91.17(a) or 91.19(a) is grounds for:
      • Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of that act; or
      • Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating
    • A refusal to submit to a test to indicate the percentage by weight of alcohol in the blood, when requested by a law enforcement officer per §91.17(c) of this chapter, or a refusal to furnish or authorize the release of the test results requested by the Administrator per FAR 91.17(c) or (d) of this chapter, is grounds for:
      • Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of that refusal; or
      • Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating
    • For more information, read: alcohol and flying
  • Fatigue:

    • Fatigue continues to be one of the most treacherous hazards to flight safety, as it may not be apparent to a pilot until serious errors have occurred
    • There are no real ways to measure your level of fatigue
    • Fatigue produces a decline in a variety of measures of performance similar to the effects of alcohol intoxication and other substances which affect mentation
    • High-level mental activities such as complex decision-making and planning suffer the most, whereas simple, well-practiced skills are less sensitive to fatigue
    • Described as either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term)
      • Acute Fatigue:

        • Regular occurrence of everyday living
        • The tiredness felt from physical/mental strain, emotional pressure, immobility/monotony, lack of sleep
        • Acute fatigue can significantly reduce coordination and alertness
        • Adequate rest, regular exercise, and proper nutrition prevent acute fatigue
        • Consequently, coordination and alertness, so vital to safe pilot performance, can be reduced
        • Signs of acute fatigue:
          • Misplacing items during the preflight
          • Leaving material (pencils, charts in the planning area
          • Missing radio calls
          • Answering calls improperly (read-backs)
          • Improper tuning of frequencies
        • Acute fatigue is prevented by adequate rest and sleep, as well as by regular exercise and proper nutrition
      • Chronic Fatigue:

        • It occurs when there is not enough time for full recovery between periods of acute fatigue
        • The pilot's performance continues to fall off, and judgment becomes impaired and therefore lends to unwarranted risks
        • The underlying cause is generally not rest-related and may have more profound points of origin
        • Chronic fatigue is a combination of both physiological problems and psychological issues
          • Financial, home life, or job-related stress can lead to chronic fatigue
        • Recovery from chronic fatigue requires a prolonged period of rest
      • Circadian Rhythms:

        • Sleep is the body's mechanism of restoring the fatigued brain to peak energy and performance
        • Sleep architecture is complex and consists of different stages of activity (REM and non-REM sleep)
        • Sleep needs are genetically determined; most people require 8 to 8 14 hours sleep/night
        • Circadian ("about-a-day") rhythms govern all activities of the body, synchronized with daytime light exposure and activity levels
        • Sleep induction, maintenance, and termination are tied to circadian rhythms
          • The effect of the alerting circadian rhythm is to boost the brain's alertness during the day while fatigue accumulates and induces and maintains sleep at night while the brain recovers
        • Shifts in time zones will disrupt circadian rhythms and require a varying time to resynchronize
          • During this disruption, fatigue levels will be unpredictable, with sleep efficiency and performance degrading to some degree
      • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):

        • OSA is an important preventable factor identified in transportation accidents
        • OSA interrupts the normal restorative sleep necessary for normal functioning and is associated with chronic illnesses such as hypertension, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes
        • Symptoms include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, intermittent prolonged breathing pauses while sleeping, memory impairment, and lack of concentration
        • Many available treatments can reverse the daytime symptoms reduce the chance of an accident, and most treatments are acceptable for medical certification upon demonstrating effective treatment
        • If you have any symptoms described above, or a neck size over 17 inches in men or 16 inches in women, or a body mass index greater than 30, you should be evaluated for sleep apnea by a sleep medicine specialist ( bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html)
        • With treatment, you can avoid or delay the onset of these chronic illnesses and prolong your quality of life
    • Operational Limitations:

      • Hours of training: In any 24-consecutive-hour period, a flight instructor may not conduct more than 8 hours of flight training
  • Emotion:

    • Similar to stress-type indications
    • Upsetting events such as a serious argument, a death, a breakup, job loss, or financial catastrophe can lead to risks that render a pilot unable to fly an aircraft safely
    • The emotions of anger, depression, and anxiety from such events not only decrease alertness but also may lead to taking risks that border on self-destruction
    • Pilots experiencing an emotionally upsetting event should not fly until satisfactorily recover from it

PAVE Checklist:

  • Another way to mitigate risk is to perceive hazards. By incorporating the PAVE checklist into preflight planning, the pilot divides the risks of flight into four categories: Pilot in-command (PIC), Aircraft, enVironment, and External pressures (PAVE), which form part of a pilot's decision-making process [Figure 2/3]
  • With the PAVE checklist, pilots have a simple way to remember each category to examine for risk before each flight
  • Once a pilot identifies a flight's risks, they need to decide whether the risk can be managed safely and successfully. If not, decide to cancel the flight. If the pilot decides to continue the flight, they should develop strategies to mitigate the risks. A pilot can control the risks by setting personal minimums for items in each risk category. These are limits unique to that individual pilot's current level of experience and proficiency
  • For example, the aircraft may have a maximum crosswind component of 15 knots listed in the aircraft flight manual (AFM), and the pilot has experience with 10-knots of direct crosswind. It could be unsafe to exceed a 10-knot crosswind component without additional training. Therefore, the 10-knot crosswind experience level is that pilot's limitation until additional training with a certificated flight instructor (CFI) provides the pilot with additional experience for flying in crosswinds that exceed 10 knots
  • One of the most important concepts that safe pilots understand is the difference between what is "legal" in terms of the regulations and what is "smart" or "safe" in terms of pilot experience and proficiency
  • P = Pilot-in-Command (PIC):

    • The pilot is one of the risk factors in a flight. The pilot must ask, "Am I ready for this trip?" regarding experience, recency, currency, and physical and emotional condition. The IMSAFE checklist provides the answers
    • Ask:
      • Is the aircraft I will fly capable and equipped to complete this trip?
      • Did the maintenance history indicate the aircraft is airworthy?
      • Did my preflight inspection find any problems with the aircraft?
      • Is there enough fuel onboard?
  • A = Aircraft:

    • What limitations will the aircraft impose upon the trip?
    • Ask:
      • Is this the right aircraft for the flight?
      • Am I familiar with and current in this aircraft? Aircraft performance figures and the AFM assume a brand-new aircraft flown by a professional test pilot. Keep that in mind while assessing personal and aircraft performance
      • Is this aircraft equipped for the flight? Instruments? Lights? Are navigation and communication equipment adequate?
      • Can this aircraft use the runways available for the trip with an adequate safety margin under the conditions to be flown?
      • Can this aircraft carry the planned load?
      • Can this aircraft operate at the altitudes needed for the trip?
      • Does this aircraft have sufficient fuel capacity, with reserves, for the trip legs planned?
      • Did the fuel quantity delivered match the fuel quantity ordered?
      • Did the maintenance history indicate the aircraft is airworthy?
      • Did my preflight inspection find any problems with the aircraft?
  • V = EnVironment:

    • Weather:

      • Weather is a major environmental consideration. Earlier, it was suggested pilots set their personal minimums, especially when it comes to weather
      • Ask:
        • What is the current ceiling and visibility? In mountainous terrain, consider having higher minimums for ceiling and visibility, particularly if the terrain is unfamiliar
        • Consider the possibility that the weather may be different than the forecast. Have alternative plans and be ready and willing to divert should an unexpected change occur
        • Consider the winds and the strength of the crosswind component
        • If flying in mountainous terrain, consider whether there are strong winds aloft. Strong winds in mountainous terrain can cause severe turbulence and downdrafts and be very hazardous for aircraft even when there is no other significant weather
        • Are there any thunderstorms present or forecast?
        • Is there any icing, current, or forecast if there are clouds? What is the temperature/dew point spread and the current temperature at altitude? Can a descent be made safely all along the route?
        • If encountering icing conditions, is the pilot experienced in operating the aircraft's deicing or anti-icing equipment? Is this equipment in good condition and functional? For what icing conditions is the aircraft rated, if any?
        • Can both the aircraft and I fly in the expected weather conditions?
    • Terrain:

      • Evaluation of terrain is another important component of analyzing the flight environment
      • To avoid terrain and obstacles, especially at night or in low visibility, determine safe altitudes in advance by using the altitudes shown on VFR and IFR charts during preflight planning
      • Use maximum elevation figures (MEFs) and other easily obtainable data to minimize the chances of an inflight collision with terrain or obstacles
    • Airport:

      • What lights are available at the destination and alternate airports? VASI/PAPI or ILS glideslope guidance? Is the terminal airport equipped with them? Are they working? Will the pilot need to use the radio to activate the airport lights?
      • Check the Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) for closed runways or airports. Look for runway or beacon lights out, nearby towers, etc.
      • Choose the flight route wisely. An engine failure gives the nearby airports supreme importance
      • Are there shorter or obstructed fields at the destination and/or alternate airports?
    • Airspace:

      • If the trip is over remote areas, is there appropriate clothing, water, and survival gear onboard in the event of a forced landing?
      • If the trip includes flying over water or unpopulated areas with the chance of losing visual reference to the horizon, the pilot must be prepared to fly IFR
      • Check the airspace and any temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) along the route of flight
    • Nighttime:

      • Night flying requires special consideration
      • If the trip includes flying at night over water or unpopulated areas with the chance of losing visual reference to the horizon, the pilot must be prepared to fly IFR
      • Will the flight conditions allow a safe emergency landing at night?
      • For a night flight, perform preflight check of all aircraft lights, interior, and exterior. Carry at least two flashlights-one for exterior preflight and a smaller one that can be dimmed and kept nearby
  • E = External Pressures:

    • External pressures are external influences that create a sense of pressure to complete a flight, often at the expense of safety. Factors that can be external pressures include the following:
      • Someone waiting at the airport for the flight's arrival
      • A passenger, the pilot, does not want to disappoint
      • The desire to demonstrate pilot qualifications
      • The desire to impress someone (Probably the two most dangerous words in aviation are "Watch this!")
      • The desire to satisfy a specific personal goal ("get-home-itis," "get-there-itis," and "let's-go-itis")
        • This may manifest in the excitement of getting to a location like a fly-in
        • In instances where the pilot has a time-sensitive reason to be someplace, consider stopping near a commercial airport where essential travel can be conducted safely and return to the aircraft is simple
      • The pilot's general goal-completion orientation
      • Emotional pressure associated with acknowledging that skill and experience levels may be lower than a pilot would like them to be
      • Pride can be an influential external factor!
    • Managing External Pressures:
      • Management of external pressure is the single most important key to risk management because it is the one risk factor category that can cause a pilot to ignore all the other risk factors. External pressures put time-related pressure on the pilot and figure into most accidents. Using personal standard operating procedures (SOPs) is one way to manage external pressures. The goal is to supply a release for the external pressures of a flight. These procedures include but are not limited to:
        • Allow time on a trip for an extra fuel stop or to make an unexpected landing because of weather
        • Have alternate plans for late arrival or make backup airline reservations for must-be-there trips
        • For essential trips, plan to leave early enough so that there would still be time to drive to the destination, if necessary
        • Know how to and advise of any delays to those waiting at the destination
        • Manage passengers' expectations. Make sure passengers know that they might not arrive on a firm schedule, and if they must arrive by a particular time, they should make alternative plans
        • Eliminate pressure to return home, even on a casual day flight, by carrying a small overnight kit containing prescriptions, contact lens solutions, toiletries, or other necessities on every flight
    • Ask:
      • Does this flight have to be completed today?
      • Are peers or passengers pressuring me to fly?
      • Do I have commitments after the flight that I think I must meet?
      • Do I feel pressured or rushed to get to my destination?
    • The key to managing external pressure is to be ready for and accept delays. Remember that people get delayed when traveling on airlines, driving a car, or taking a bus. The pilot's goal is to manage risk, not create hazards
    • Are We There Yet?, explores further external pressures
  • FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide. Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 1
    FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide,
    Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 1
  • FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide. Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 2
    FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide,
    Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 2
  • FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide. Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 1
    FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide,
    Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 1
  • FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide. Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 2
    FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide,
    Appendix B, Personal Minimums Checklist Page 2

Hazardous Attitudes:

  • Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, The five hazardous attitudes identified through past and contemporary study
    Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge,
    The five hazardous attitudes identified
    through past and contemporary study
  • Being fit to fly depends on more than just a pilot's physical condition and recent experience
  • Studies have identified five hazardous attitudes that can interfere with the ability to make sound decisions and exercise authority properly: anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, macho, and resignation
  • Hazardous attitudes, which contribute to poor pilot judgment, are dangerous personalities we must learn to recognize within ourselves and others
    • A pilot who exhibits a hazardous trait may not recognize it themselves, and it may be up to you to prevent catastrophe
  • Early recognition of these hazardous attitudes sets the stage for proper corrective action to be taken [Figure 4]
    • A pilot who will risk his/her own life will likely do the same with their passengers!
  • Research (which later evolved into the Crew Resource Management concept, has identified five overarching hazardous attitudes that can affect a pilot's judgment, as well as the corresponding antidotes for each
  • Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, The five hazardous attitudes identified through past and contemporary study
    Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge,
    The five hazardous attitudes identified
    through past and contemporary study
  • Anti-Authority:

    • "Don't tell me"
    • Those who do not like anyone telling them what to do will demonstrate anti-authority
    • They may be resentful of having someone tell them what to do or may regard rules, regulations, and procedures as silly or unnecessary
    • While it is always your prerogative to question authority if you feel it is in error, understand you may be in error
  • Impulsivity:

    • "Do it quickly"
    • The attitude of people who frequently feel the need to do something, anything, immediately demonstrate impulsivity
    • They do not stop to think about what they are about to do; they do not select the best alternative and do the first thing that comes to mind
  • Invulnerability:

    • "It won't happen to me"
    • Many people feel that accidents happen to others but never to them
    • They know accidents can happen, and they know that anyone can be affected
    • They never really feel or believe that they will be personally involved
    • Experience can be a large contributing factor
    • Pilots who think this way are more likely to take chances and increase the risk
  • Macho:

    • "I can do it"
    • Pilots who are always trying to prove that they are better than anyone else is thinking, "I can do it. I'll show them"
    • Pilots with this type of attitude will try to prove themselves by taking risks to impress others
    • This pattern is assumed to be a male characteristic; however, women are equally susceptible
  • Resignation:

    • "What's the use?"
    • Pilots feeling resignation do not see themselves as being able to make a great deal of difference in what happens to them
    • When things go well, the pilot is apt to think that it is good luck
    • When things go badly, the pilot may feel that someone is out to get me or attribute it to bad luck
    • The pilot will leave the action to others, for better or worse
    • Sometimes, such pilots will even go along with unreasonable requests to be a "nice guy"

Setting Personal Minimums:

  • Every pilot must know their limits
  • Failure to know your limits can result in the inability to properly manage risk, leading to a mishap
  • Fitness for flight is something that must be evaluated based on the circumstances pertaining to that flight
  • Accordingly, those requirements to consider a pilot "fit to fly" may change
  • Exceeding one's comfort zone is based on operation, currency, proficiency, weather, etc.
  • Treat every flight as if it was your first solo, and apply that level of thought and concentration where applicable
  • The AOPA offers a guide/checklist to write down VFR and/or IFR minimums
  • The FAA breaks down the development of personal minimums into six steps:
  • Step 1 - Review Weather Minimums:

    • Given current weather forecasts, will the flight be conducted under VFR, MVFR, IFR, LIFR?
  • Step 2 - Assess Your Experience and Comfort Level:

    • Given recent flights, are you comfortable with the weather?
  • Step 3 - Consider Other Conditions:

    • Besides weather, what other environmental factors might be at hand to include winds, temperatures, and short runways?
  • Step 4 – Assemble and Evaluate:

    • Given the conditions identified in steps 1 through 3, where do you personally draw the line?
  • Step 5 – Adjust for Specific Conditions:

    • Consider developing a chart of adjustment factors based on changes in the PAVE checklist factors - Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment, and External Pressures
    • What is the maximum wind you're comfortable with? Does it change with aircraft? Are certain airports different than others, and if so, with what regard?
    • Note that:
      • Never adjust personal minimums to a lower value for a specific flight:
        • The time to consider changes is when you are not under any pressure to fly and when you have the time and objectivity to think honestly about your skill, performance, and comfort level
      • Keep all other variables constant:
        • If your goal is to lower your baseline personal minimums for visibility, don't try to lower the ceiling, wind, or other values at the same time
  • Step 6 – Stick to the Plan!

    • Once you have established baseline personal minimums, "all" you need to do next is stick to the plan
  • Personal minimums are something that must be developed over time, set long before the flight

Private Pilot - Human Factors Airman Certification Standards:

  • Satisfy the requirements of Section I, Task H by determining that the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with personal health, flight physiology, aeromedical and human factors, as it relates to safety of flight

Human Factors Knowledge:

The applicant must demonstrate an understanding of:

Human Factors Risk Management:

The applicant demonstrates the ability to identify, assess and mitigate risks encompassing:
  • PA.I.H.R1:

    Aeromedical and physiological issues
  • PA.I.H.R2:

    Hazardous attitudes
  • PA.I.H.R3:

    Distractions, loss of situational awareness, or improper task management

Human Factors Skills:

The applicant demonstrates the ability to:
  • PA.I.H.S1:

    Associate the symptoms and effects for at least three of the conditions listed in K1a through K1l above with the cause(s) and corrective action(s)
  • PA.I.H.S2:

    Perform self-assessment, including fitness for flight and personal minimums, for actual flight or a scenario given by the evaluator

Fitness for Flight Case Studies:

  • NTSB Identification: MIA94FA148: The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's impairment of judgment and performance due to alcohol and drugs, which led to his improper planning/decision, and his failure to maintain adequate airspeed during a maneuver
  • NTSB Identification: CEN12FA571: The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The student pilot's impairment from alcohol, marijuana, and hypoxia, which adversely affected his ability to maintain control of the airplane

Fitness for Flight Knowledge Quiz:


  • The most important skill a pilot builds is deciding when not to fly
  • In addition to obtaining a medical certificate determining overall fitness for flight, it is a vital self-evaluation that every pilot (and their passengers) must conduct before any flight operation
  • Aircraft accident statistics show that pilots should be conducting preflight checklists on themselves as well as their aircraft for pilot impairment contributes to many more accidents than failures of aircraft systems
  • These Physiological and psychological factors can affect a pilot and compromise the safety of a flight
  • Effective fitness for flight determinations are the first link in the chain of events that, if ignored, could lead to a mishap
  • While the IM SAFE and PAVE checklists exist to help, they're interrelated topics and only a checklist to a wholistic fitness determination
  • Fatigue is important enough for the FAA to have published Advisory Circular (120-100) Basics of Aviation Fatigue
    • Be wary of the effects of coffee and energy drinks that can make you feel alert but do not reduce fatigue
  • Review personal minimums/decision making with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association safet spotlight, Doing the Right Thing: Decision Making for Pilots
  • Aircraft accident statistics show that pilots should be conducting preflight checklists on themselves as well as their aircraft for pilot impairment contributes to many more accidents than failures of aircraft systems
  • The IM SAFE checklist is your last line of defense in determining if you are mentally and physically fit to conduct the flight
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