Personal Minimums — Go or No Go

By Steve Krog, EAA 173799

This story first appeared in the March 2019 issue of EAA Sport Aviation.

Several months ago, an incident occurred near our airport
that created a good deal of weekend coffee drinking and hangar flying
discussion. An aircraft bound for Hartford, Wisconsin, encountered some
difficult icing conditions and was forced down a couple miles short of the
airport. Thankfully, the pilot was unharmed, but the airplane was totaled. The
discussion led to questioning all present if they had personal minimums by
which they determined a go or no-go decision to fly.

Some of the participating pilots were familiar with and had
established personal minimums, while others really didn’t pay much attention to
establishing flight parameters. Since that Saturday afternoon discussion, I’ve
taken the opportunity to ask several pilots about personal minimums. The
responses caused me to delve into this subject further.

What exactly are personal minimums? According to the FAA,
personal minimums are an individual’s set of operating criteria, procedures,
rules, or guidelines used to assist that individual in making personal flight

The FAA preaches “know your minimums.” It does a relatively
good job in trying to get pilots to understand the importance of this phrase as
it applies to the individual’s ability to make safe flights via the acronym of
PAVE (pilot, aircraft, environment, and external pressures). Many pilots are
familiar with this acronym, but I’ve found that many more are not. Designated
examiners I’ve used are well-versed with this simple program and stress it
during the oral portion of a checkride.


P = Pilot. It is
meant for the pilot to review their readiness for the intended flight. What is
the pilot’s total experience? Recent experience? Current level of proficiency?
And legal requirements? Other concerns may include the pilot’s physical and
emotional condition prior to the flight. Is this the first time the pilot has
flown an extended cross-country? Is it the first time for mountain flight?

For example, years ago, my college flying buddy, Stephen
DeLay, and I were flying from eastern South Dakota to Southern California. The
first thing we did upon reaching the Rocky Mountains was land and talk to
several of the locals, including a flight instructor, to get a briefing on what
to expect and how to fly in the mountains. Our total flight time, if you added
both of our acquired hours, amounted to less than 100 hours, and all of it was
done in the flatlands. It proved to be a wise decision and gave us the
confidence and input needed to make the flight safely.

A = Aircraft.
What are the hazards or risks associated with the aircraft as they pertain to
the intended flight? What are the fuel requirements, including fuel reserve, to
make the flight? What is the overall condition of the aircraft? Is it equipped
properly and legally for the intended flight? How experienced are you, the
pilot, with this aircraft, especially if it is a rental? Have you flown it
recently? Do you understand the operation of all electronic equipment on board?

With the advances made in aircraft electronics, it is quite
easy to get into an aircraft today and only have a limited understanding of how
much of the glass panel works. This lack of understanding has been the cause of
several incidents throughout the country. If you were to take a private pilot
checkride in this aircraft today, the examiner would insist that you
demonstrate how to use all functioning onboard electronic gear installed in the

V = Environment.
Have you, the pilot, obtained a good weather briefing and understood the
potential for environmental risks along your route of flight? These risks
include knowledge of both the departure and destination airports, runway
conditions, terrain, obstacles, surrounding airspace, and most importantly, the
weather elements that may be encountered during the flight, including winds
aloft. If flying VFR, can you maintain VFR conditions throughout the length of
the flight?

What if the temperature and dew point at your destination
indicate a 2-degree separation and there is a stationary front within a few
miles of your destination airport? The planned arrival is expected to be just
before sunset. Do you go or not go?

Based on my experience working with students nearly every
day, as well as conducting a number of flight reviews, weather is the most
misunderstood portion of the equation for determining whether or not to fly.
Yes, most everyone can identify cloud formations from the NASA charts, or
demonstrate to the examiner how cold or warm fronts are depicted on weather
charts, but understanding what these fronts do to affect weather along the
desired route of flight is not readily understood.

E = External
Personal, family, and work pressures can significantly influence
your level of proficiency and your ability to make and abide by good decisions.
For example, were you up all night prior to making the flight trying to get
everything done at work in order to have today and the weekend off for flying?

I see and experience the influence of external pressures
when flying with students. One day a student may be sharp in performing
maneuvers, takeoffs, and landings. But the next day, they have a hard time
flying straight and level. This shows up within minutes of becoming airborne.
As soon as I’ve picked up on the situation, I’ll ask the student if work was
particularly stressful today, or if someone at home was ill. Most often the
answer is yes. With that response, we conclude the flight and have a discussion
— on the ground — about external influences and how noticeably they have
affected the student’s concentration and ability to fly well.

What Is Your Comfort

A former student of mine, now flying for an airline but
still doing a lot of pleasure flying, stopped at the hangar several months ago.
When I asked about his personal minimums, he provided two sets. Proficiency is
of utmost importance in the airline industry. He is involved in undergoing
proficiency training every six months, as most airline pilots are. And once
every 12 months they undergo a full proficiency check. This procedure keeps the
pilots current, safe, and proficient.

When flying for pleasure, both VFR and IFR, my former
student follows the philosophy of doubling the minimum altitude as well as
doubling the fuel reserve when flying IFR in the boot-equipped Cessna 310 if he
hasn’t flown it in the past 30 days or so. Just because he can fly a Boeing 767
to CAT II minimums on a regular basis does not make him automatically
proficient in any other aircraft. He also added that if the outside temperature
is 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) or cooler with visible moisture,
he will wait and fly the 310 another day. He’s established sound personal
minimums and abides by them.

Establishing Personal

How does a pilot flying for pleasure establish personal
minimums? I’ve been asked that question many times. My response is generally a
series of questions to which the pilot must provide an honest answer.

  • How many hours of total flight time have you accrued?
  • How many hours in the past 90 days? In the past 30 days?
  • Have all the total accrued flight hours happened within 50 miles of the home airport other than when meeting the sport or private pilot minimum requirements?
  • What is the strongest crosswind that you have had to fly?
  • Was it with an instructor or was it solo? How long ago did this flight occur?
  • Have you primarily been an early morning or late afternoon fair weather flyer and not really experienced any significant crosswind takeoffs and landings since your primary training?
  • How many flights have you intended to make in the past year but ended up canceling due to the wind?
  • What is your comfort level regarding ceiling and visibility? Are you comfortable flying in 5 miles and haze? If the ceiling is 1,500 feet with a broken cloud layer, are you comfortable in that situation? Class E airspace requires a minimum of 3 miles’ visibility and that you remain 500 feet below, 1,000 feet above, or 2,000 feet horizontally away from clouds. Are you comfortable conducting flight under Class E minimums?

When establishing your own personal minimums, be honest with
yourself and jot down what you’re comfortable with.

When did you last fly and how often do you fly? What are the
ceiling, visibility, and wind limits that you’re comfortable with? When was the
last time you flew the aircraft you’re about to fly? Are there any outside
influences that may affect your flight proficiency today or any future day?

Now that you’ve honestly answered these questions, a base
line can be determined. This base line may be quite conservative today, but by
summer’s end, it may have been expanded by quite a lot depending on how
dedicated you are toward becoming a safe, competent, and proficient pilot.

One final suggestion for helping to define personal minimums
is to review the FAA’s personal minimums guide, available
online at the FAA website
. You’ll find it quite helpful as you
develop your own.

Steve Krog, EAA 173799, has been flying for more than four decades and giving tailwheel instruction for nearly as long. In 2006, he launched Cub Air Flight, a flight training school using tailwheel aircraft for all primary training. For more from Steve, read his Classic Instructor column each month in EAA Sport Aviation.

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