April 13, 2014

Making the Best of a Marginal VFR Day

It had been a while since I had flown, so to get current, I booked some time with Simple Flight CFI Extraordinaire Al Waterloo. Our goal was to go out and do a biennial flight review flight (BFR). However, when the Saturday arrived the weather was not cooperating and the ceilings would not allow for us to perform some of the maneuvers planned for the BFR. I was tempted to scrub the flight, but we decided to meet at the airport to see if we could find a way to salvage the day.

Al suggested we walk through the PAVE & TEAM Checklists, two checklists I had heard of but never used, so Al walked me through them.

P = Pilot: I am familiar with the I'm Safe checklist and that can be applied here. Basically P is used to determine if I, the pilot, am in the right shape to fly. It is also the time to look beyond health but assess my pilot capabilities against the aircraft I plan to fly, the weather conditions we are expecting, etc.

A = Aircraft: Basically assessing whether this aircraft is the right aircraft for the mission. Is it airworthy, fueld properly, etc.

V = EnVironment: What is the weather forecast for my airport, my destination an enroute. In addition to weather it includes evaluating terrain, TFRs or NOTAMs that could cause concern.

E = External Pressures: Are there external pressures that may effect ability to make sound judgements. Is Get-there-itis a concern? Am I worried about letting a passenger down if we don't fly. Basically evaluating any external pressures.

In order to best evaluate the four characteristics above Al suggested we use PAVE in combination with TEAM checklist as a risk management tool. For each of the above characteristics we decided how to handle any risk associated to it as follows:

T = Transfer: Should the risk decision be transferred to someone else?

E = Eliminate: Is there a way to eliminate the hazard?

A = Accept: Are the risks posed acceptable?

M = Mitigate: What can you do to mitigate the risk?

That morning the entire Midwest was under a low cloud ceiling which was broken at around 1,600 feet and all local airports were reporting Marginal VFR (MVFR). We decided our goal would be to fly to Milwaukee from Chicago Executive for lunch and back. So we did a thorough weather brief in ForeFlight then made a go/no-go decision utilizing PAVE in conjunction with TEAM.

Pilot: I had not flown in a few months, we decided that if it were just me that day I would likely have eliminated the risk by scrubbing the flight, but on this morning I would transfer some of that risk to Al my CFI and Instrument rated pilot who could file an instrument flight plan if conditions deteriorated.

Airplane: We determined the aircraft was absolutely up to the task and was not effected by the weather. So there was little risk, so we accepted the situation.

Environment: We determined although we had low ceilings there was no issue with terrain. We also had a several airports we could divert to if weather conditions deteriorated. So we accepted some risk.

External Pressures: We determined there was no need to complete this flight and we had no external pressures that would negatively impact our judgement. So we again accepted this.

After a thorough review we determined we could salvage this Marginal VFR day and go flying. Turned out to be a great day of flying and camaraderie. Al and I had a smooth, low flight with fine visibility up to Milwaukee. My first visit to Milwaukee was a nice one, the controllers were friendly and traffic was minimal. We grabbed the crew car and enjoyed a great lunch at Cafe Centraal.

We had hoped maybe the weather would improve and give us higher ceilings to perform some stalls, emergency procedures, and other maneuvers. Unfortunately, they did not, but the return flight was also smooth an uneventful.

In the end we used the PAVE and TEAM checklists to allow us to squeeze a great day of flying out of a Marginal VFR day!

Posted by at April 13, 2014 3:27 PM

Glad the trip worked out for you & the WX cooperated but, (and I'm sure your CFI covered this with you) always leave yourself an out if you're flying in marginal VFR. I don't know if you're IFR rated yet, but WX can turn into solid IFR very quickly & if you're not IFR rated then that could spell trouble.

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