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The New Way Pilots Will Learn To Fly

Article appeared in Flying Magazine May , 2014 by John King – John_05

Flying is a risky activity. Many pilots would like to think otherwise, but this basic truth is being officially acknowledged by the FAA. They have recruited groups of highly qualified instructors, examiners, and course designers to collaborate to design an improved pilot evaluation system. The latest working group is charged with assisting in the implementation of Airman Certification Standards (ACS), which will soon replace the Practical Test Standards (PTS) currently in use.

With these new standards, pilots will be required to demonstrate on every practical test, along with their knowledge and skills, their risk management ability. Examiners will be looking for a pilot’s ability to anticipate the risks of a flight, properly assess them, and come up with a mitigation plan.

Why the focus on “risk” instead of “safety”? Because risk management is a process that can be trained and tested for to get a safer result. The objective behind everything we do in flight training is to manage risk. Pilots fine-tune their flying skills so that lack of skill doesn’t become a risk factor. They learn knowledge subjects and are given a knowledge test so they will be aware of the hazards and risks associated with flight, and have the resources to mitigate them.

Many pilots are deeply invested in the term “safety” and aren’t willing to accept any change in the vocabulary or the process, because it somehow feels like a rejection of “safety.” It is not. It is an effort to get a safer result by teaching an active process that will be employed as a habit.

Other pilots and instructors have felt that teaching risk management is just a distraction that will leave less time for honing the physical skills of flight. The idea is that risk management is intuitive and doesn’t need to be either taught or tested.

In fact, the ability to combine knowledge and skills to anticipate and mitigate risk is not a talent that comes naturally. It is a process that is difficult to learn without some coaching. Over time it can become a habit, and a thought process that improves with practice. Without that habit many pilots inadvertently put themselves into situations which no amount of skill could get them out of.

Let’s take a look at how practice might help.

Let’s say you arrive for a takeoff at an airport with a single, narrow, east-west runway and today there is a strong wind out of the north. There would be a ninety-degree crosswind no matter whether you took off to the east or west.

Even those of us who haven’t had any risk management training would spot most of the risk factors right off: narrow runway, strong ninety-degree crosswind, level of pilot skill at handling crosswinds, type of aircraft.

On the other hand what might be the hardest aptitude to develop without practice is risk mitigation. Of course, you’d check the forecast for when the wind might change. Since this is a takeoff not a landing, you don’t have a choice of choosing another airport. You’re stuck with the narrow runway and the runway heading. You’re not going to improve your crosswind handling skill fast enough to help with this takeoff. If it were a landing instead of a takeoff, you might think about declaring an emergency and landing on a taxiway that is into the wind. However, that doesn’t work for a takeoff. It is very likely the FAA would feel there is no such thing as an emergency takeoff.

So what’s left? Well, there is always the go/no-go decision. But let’s assume the wind is right on the margin of what you feel can handle. Is there anything else you might do?

How about making the weathervaning tendency and the left-turning tendency offset each other instead of adding to each other? We all know that airplanes with propellers that rotate clockwise when seen from the cockpit have a left-turning tendency. So in this case if you take off to the west, the left turning tendency will help offset the tendency of the airplane to weathervane to the right. And this just might convert a marginal takeoff into a comfortable one—mitigating the risk.

You might say, “Hey, no fair. That’s no big deal. That’s so simple, it’s obvious.” Well, so were wheels on luggage—after somebody thought of it. But thinking of these things gets easier with practice.

Another seemingly obvious risk mitigation practice is, when the destination weather is marginal, landing at the halfway point for fuel on a trip that is well within the range of the airplane. It greatly expands your circle of alternatives. If you can’t land at the destination, you could even go right back to your fuel stop.

If you plan the fuel stop for later in the trip, there is a compelling urge as you get closer to your destination to decide that you don’t need to make the fuel stop after all. Some pilots who have made that decision have run out of fuel before reaching the destination. One couple in particular told us they survived the engine-out landing but urgently wanted others to recognize this trap. By landing before the temptation to skip the fuel stop sets in, you are mitigating the risk that you, the pilot, will decide the fuel stop is a waste of time.

Again, this is so simple it is obvious, but it is not something most pilots would do unless they had coaching and developed a habit of brainstorming ways to mitigate risks on every trip. These are the kinds of things that examiners will be looking for on every checkride, and instructors should be looking for on flight reviews.

This new way of testing pilots will require a new way of training pilots as well. The most efficient way of developing the habit of risk management in learning pilots is to have them practice those skills on every training flight. The most logical way to accomplish this is to use scenario-based training.

A scenario refers to a lesson plan that includes a practical, realistic setting with a real or simulated purpose. This helps to impart a sense of urgency to complete the flight and consequences for not completing the flight. The most important part of the scenario, however, is a real or simulated set of risks to be managed. This provides the needed practice in risk management.

Scenario-based training as originally conceived by the FAA suggested very contrived situations which overdid the play-acting. Many instructors and flight schools rightfully pushed back against this cumbersome approach.

In order to be useful, the scenario only has to be elaborate enough to put the learning into context and provide an opportunity for risk management. Flight instructors have always used scenarios to some extent, such as when asking, “What would you do now if your engine started running really rough?” The difference here is putting the entire flight in a scenario to provide the opportunity to practice risk management.

Examiners have been required to use scenarios during practical tests for some time. This has given pilots who have been trained using scenarios an advantage, but the fact that applicants will now be expressly tested on their risk management ability will make the use of scenarios in training almost essential.

In previous articles Martha and I have confessed to many of the inexcusable and irresponsible risks we took some 45 years ago when we first started flying. Some readers were offended when we wondered whether a different approach and a different vocabulary might have helped us learn faster. They took it as a failure on our part to assume responsibility for our actions. To make it clear, we fully understand that we and we alone were responsible for our poor risk management.

Moreover, after having watched countless other pilots make the same mistakes over and over again—many of whom were not as fortunate as we were—we have taken on the responsibility of trying to improve the way the entire aviation community manages the risks of flight. As some may know, we have been working at this for a long time. That is the motivation behind this series of articles.

The approach we think will help most is employing a more specific vocabulary to better express the explicit process pilots must use to achieve a safer result. That is why we so fervently applaud the FAA’s move towards testing for risk management proficiency.


  1. Daniel sorrell

    Thank you king ,forall that hard work and dedication a lots of folks at King has put into this it was very enlightening i’ll recommend you highly in the future

  2. Josh

    I think this is a great tool for pilots to use. We use this in the Navy; we call it ORM or Operational Risk Managment. We use it to help mitigate risk prior to any risky missions or dangerous evolutions.
    Honestly we all use risk management every day, simply giving yourself extra time to get to work rather than rushing, looking both ways before you cross the street. We as pilots definitely need to know how to manage the risks of flying. Anything can go wrong at any given moment and we need to know how to keep ourselves and our passengers safe. We cannot prevent all casualties but the better prepared we are the better off we will be in the end.
    J. Parkey

  3. Mac Molnar

    I was trained by an excellent CF II who was also the district FAA flight safety officer. I used King Schools courses to build a foundation, while my instructor continued scenario based learning. One of the best resources I found was risk management CDs from King Schools. I am a relative novice with only 500 hours, but I have learned for every flight, and every risk associated with it, there must be a viable alternative. I applaud John and Martha for helping me reach my goal of learning to fly safely.

  4. Clayton Yendrey

    I think we need to be very cautious anytime a government agency starts talking about risk management. A risk management organization, barring strong outside guidance, can quickly focus on the best strategy for eliminating risk in an activity as eliminating the activity. Been there, fought that, for too many years within the Company I work for. Managing risk is a laudable goal and is the right approach in many ways. However, it is a slippery slope that easily goes from a managing risk focus to eliminating risk focus that quickly moves to a perspective that any risk is unacceptable – thus no activity which exposes risk.

    Consequently, I’m not impressed by the FAA’s RM ‘change’ and have some strong concerns/doubts about their ability or even commitment to adhere to the intent and not let the bureaucracy takes its natural evolution on this.

  5. Jean-Luc H Pous


    Although I haven’t seen you in person, I have the impression to know you well, thanks to your video on the ATP written.

    Excellent move, risk management. Oil Industry indoctrinated us and it works, for instance, any of us could issue a STOP CARD if we felt an activity (Any) presented a risk.. Indeed in depth Failure Analysis followed if risk was not avoided and an incident happened.

    Again great move,

    Jean-Luc Pous,
    CFI CFII MEI and Corporate Aviator

  6. Phil B. Sales

    Thank you for the email and for this important insight. I support the FAA’s decision in implementing this training. Risk management. We need to train pilots not to put themselves into any situation that will be risky, or into any situation that will be unsafe. Back to the basics. “Stay in control, and don’t hit anything.” That’s the most important lesson I learned from King Schools!
    Aloha from Hawaii!
    Phil B. Sales 🙂

  7. Ralph

    I a am a firm believer in learning from others mistakes and not making them myself, than learning from my own mistakes the hard way…..

  8. John Cabeen

    Sounds interesting. Where would this training begin to take place? I would say after the student has soloed and is gaining solo experience before starting cross country training.

  9. John Pollock Sr

    I very much enjoyed the article on “The New Way Pilots Will Learn To Fly, risk management. As a motorcycle rider, another risky activity, this is something I use before every ride as well as along the way. It would be automatic as a pilot.
    I hope you will send more articles in emails to your supporters, especially ones like me who are just in the beginning stages of getting a pilot license. It will make it easier to incorporate these principals from the very beginning.

  10. Bob Corey

    Have not had a name for this practice,but have applied it the last 50 years. Just called it common sense and gut feeling.

  11. charles geisler

    This sounds like the Philosophy of Objectivism. Being selfish is acting in one’s rational self interest. That is what is being proposed here. Acting on reason not whim to maintain ones self.

  12. Flyboy Stinson

    Great Article !
    I`ve been flying 45 years and I agree whole heartedly with you !
    I send every person I meet who is interested in flying, to your
    website with the following recommendation:
    “Mr. and Mrs. King have forgotten more about aviation
    than I or any other pilot knows” !!!
    Be well, do great flying and keep in touch,
    Flyboy Stinson

  13. Val Lynn

    As leaders in the Aviation Industry, particularly in the field of pilot training and testing, your article is timely and welcome. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on scenario-based training and risk management as they apply to safe flight.

    Safety or, a safe flight, is always the goal. But how does one achieve this objective consistently?

    Most people look at the completion of a flight as proof that the goal of safety was met. This is misleading for the simple reason that the completion of a flight does not necessarily mean that the flight was conducted safely.

    Scenario-based training (SBT) was and still is but a tool in the Certified Flight Instructor’s bag o’ methods to help a student learn. Unfortunately, the industry as a whole has not embraced SBT. Using scenarios as a tool for teaching requires experience in the world of flight and requires finesse on the part of an Instructor to employ those scenarios. CFIs with experience, a knack for teaching and time to teach are sorely needed.

    Teaching from the perspective that flying has numerous risks that must be managed appropriately and evaluating candidates for certificates in this manner only makes sense. On any given day, a person may handle their machine beautifully, but does that procedural ability translate into consistently safe flight? Not necessarily.

    We can couple the procedural aspects of flying with the equally important holistic aspects of flying. By helping students understand that flying has risks and by developing their ability to recognize and manage those risks, we can begin to develop safer aviators.

    We could go further by recognizing that flying, professionally and privately, is a practice, much like medicine is a practice. We might even go so far as to employ highly skilled, practitioners as mentors in internship programs.

    • Chris

      Well said. I’ve always maintained that there should be an On The Job Training for newly minted flight instructors. I think it is a tad silly that a low time pilot can begin to train new students…it’s like the blind leading the blind. You don’t see surgeons given a scalpel at the completion of Med School. A mentorship program would work for both the newbie and experienced alike.

  14. Clark Binley

    You & Martha have been my video-friends since 1989, helping me through every exam from Private to CFI. I feel this new approach to training & testing is not only wise but absolutely mandatory & quite late. Twelve years ago I think we could have made these same observations regarding the FAA & pilot decision making.
    If I can contribute, assist, or in any way further this new approach & testing method, I’m at your disposal. I feel the primary emphasis should be on Cross-Country scenarios & Approach/Landing scenarios. While we teach ground reference maneuver after ground reference maneuver, time could be better spent on diverse scenario immersion & emergency traffic avoidance procedures.
    I also think that all Private Pilots should be required to log at least 0.5 hrs of ACTUAL instrument time so that they can appreciate, in their gut, how big the teeth are on the VFR into IFR Monster. I feel that the reason so many of these incidents occur is the strict avoidance of poor weather mandated by the FAA for VFR pilots, so they never appreciate how horrid & catastrophic pressing Non-VFR conditions can be. Would a PPL student who had experienced 0.5 actual IFR & an ILS to 500ft in 2 miles vis attempt a cross country to an unfamiliar airport in 2 miles vis in the future? Surely not.. The actual IFR time, even 0.5, should be added to this new approach as well.
    I realize you both are famous & world-renown, but if I can participate in this new movement in anyway, please let me know. Thanks for teaching me everything I know about aviation over the last 23 years!
    BA,BS, CFI

  15. Bob Crystal

    Scenario based training the best practical application of airmanship.
    This type of training has been practiced by the airlines (known as LOFT training) for many years. In our training center (IFRSIMCLUB.COM) based in Van Nuys Ca.)we approach all training from a risk management senario point of view. Alternate training also another term which addresses risk management. This training is best accomplished in simulators from a safety and economics.

  16. ruud rieuwers

    Thank you for your clear approach of the necessity to manage risks more explicitly.
    Confessing your previous long-time-ago mistakes and using them for the better and for others is very admirable. I am only beginning to learn to fly and hope next year to extend it in de United States.
    I will continue to follow you and thank you for your professional views.

  17. Gary Paquette

    The issue with most of the training is a complete lack of standards and the great difference between training centers and trainers.
    I don’t know how many times I have go out of an airplane with an instructor and felt I wasted a few hours of my life. The others you feel like they are milking you for every last $$ they can get.
    It’s great that you all think that getting all the instructors and training organizations together – but I don’t really care!!! You need to ask the people being evaluated or thought what they think is needed too. Not only new student pilots but experienced pilots to that require an instructor next to them from time to time.
    Why at the end of any training there is never a post-Morten or debrief from the pilots side on how they believe things went? Also the instructor debriefing the pilot…

  18. Richard Wyeroski


    Good tip and I know a lot of pilots would not think of offsetting the left turning tendency in a cross wind.

    I always ask pilots on Flight Reviews to tell me how to make a safe t/o. Like what could go wrong? As a former FAA inspector I would always ask an applicant the same questions and some of the answers were interesting.

    One can not teach common sense and unfortunately the G/A accident rate is alive and well. In my area flying activity is way…way… down and the accident rate according to the powers that be is staying the same?

    I have asked the same question during FAA Safety meeting, if the accident rate is the same (1500) a year with 5-600 fatalities, and activity being down ($7.00 a gallon AV-GAS) then how could the accident rate be the same over the years??……No Answer from the boys…..just the boiler plate approved answer…..THINGS ARE BETTER …….(really!?)

    Thanks for what you and Martha do… are good people and I always recommend your products to my students

    Richard Wyeroski, former FAA Operations Safety Inspector
    ATP, CFI, A&P / IA

  19. Paul Nadas, CFI


    Kudos to you and Martha for not only ‘telling it like it is’ but also for your dedication to aviation safety. As a CFI, I long ago realized that the old saw about ‘the drive to the airport is more dangerous than the flight’ was a canard, at least when speaking about statistics associated with GA. ‘Risk Management’ has been my focus for years, just as I have made similar adjustments to another of my favorite activities: motorcycling. First: honestly assess and acknowledge the risks. Next, focus on how to minimize the risks so that the activity becomes something one can engage in with the risks mitigated to where the activity is ‘do-able’ without undue stress or anxiety. With motorcycling, it was a matter of doing some simple things: always wearing a helmet and good protective gear for example, regardless of state laws that allow riders to wear nothing but a loin cloth; never riding impaired, including making a mental note, that even if I am stopping for lunch at a ‘biker-friendly’ road-side bistro (typically where bikers feel free to down a number of beers before getting back on the road – never a good idea!), that I will not even be tempted to have ‘just one.’ It’s completely taken out of the equation; rarely riding after dark (I have seen too many pot-holes, debris, flotsam and jetsam on the roadways over my many decades on the road which I know would spell disaster for a motorcyclist at night – not to mention the prevalence of folks leaving bars with a bit of a ‘buzz’ on after dark); always assuming that other motorists don’t know I’m there (riding Defensively!); keeping my skills up; avoiding situations where I begin ‘writing checks with my powerful machine that my skills and experience can’t cover’….. The same is true in Aviation: keeping the skills honed; Risk Evaluation for every flight; Use of Checklists; Having a ‘Plan B’ etc. Keep up the Good Fight.

    All the best,
    Paul Nadas, CFI
    West Virginia

  20. Ed

    The Aviation community this, yes, the FAA no. And if numerous scenarios like this were applied when applying for a drivers license, most cars would remain in the garage or never bought at all. This will be like the EPA which has increased regulations so severely (thanks to their agenda) that the coal industry from which we get at least 40% of our energy may soon be OOB or the environmentalists who close off tens of thousands of acres of grazing or farmland to protect an allegedly endangered mouse. I think you’ve been suckered.

  21. Dean Hammond

    Couldn’t agree more! Risk Assessment,Management, and Mitigation are watch words in military flying. I started in the Army in 1969. With the addition of Cockpit Resource Management, and now this new push for Risk Management in civilian flying, we can save some lives and aircraft.

    I completed your on-line CFI Renewal Course this year, and I assume I’ll see even more about teaching and evaluating Risk Management in it next time.



  22. roy granoff

    well stated. anything to make us safer is welcome.
    very eloquently written
    (just got my instrument rating, thanks to the Kings!)

  23. Meric Murphy

    When Yoda asked Luke Skywalker if he was scared to go into the learning cave, he then reminded Luke ‘He will be . . .’ The first consideration in introducing flight to others is to teach them to love the sky. Once motivated by the freedom of flight, they will learn to face their fears.

  24. Dave Schollhammer

    Great article and excellent information. As a new pilot I set minimum requirements of 10 miles visibility, 5,000 foot ceiling and no more that a 13 knot crosswind at both the departing airport and arriving airport. If any of the above requirements are not in compliance I cancell my flight. I fly a 2010, 172 glass panel aircraft with many safety features that are fantastic for a new pilot. I have cancelled 5 or six flights this year and my home base operator always encourages risk management as a process for each flight.

  25. Christopher Walker

    Over 10 years in the making, FAA-Industry Training Standards (FITS) program has finally matured to a final deployment. This was long overdue. Thank you for the post.

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