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Managing Risk for You and Your Homebuilt

By Jack Dueck

If you’re considering an aircraft project or already on your way, it’s never too late to do some risk planning. Three main parts of the process are risk analysis, risk assessment, and risk management. Aircraft manufacturers incorporate risk planning in order to ensure predictable results from their products. As a homebuilder, you too can use this process to prove to yourself, your insurer, and Transport Canada that you and your aircraft are safe to fly.

During an amateur-built aircraft working session, members of the working group were told to evaluate our discussions on the basis of risk to the public. The spokesperson summed it up as follows, and I paraphrase:

“If you’re flying in a single person aircraft over some uninhabited area, there isn’t much risk to the public other than to the pilot. If you’re flying into a terminal traffic airspace, you’re now presenting a risk to other aircraft.

If you’re flying with passengers who aren’t capable of flying the aircraft and if you as the pilot become incapacitated, you’re presenting an additional risk to your passengers.

Finally, if you’re flying a loaded 747 in Toronto airspace, you represent a risk to your passengers, other aircraft and their passengers, and also to the unsuspecting population below. In the first instance,Transport Canada has a limited interest in your actions. In the latter case,you’d better be sure Transport Canada is vitally interested in your risk profile.”

Let’s look at the situation of a “type certified” aircraft such as one built by Cessna. Type acceptance is dependent on a risk analysis that produces a risk profile for this specific aircraft. It says to the general aviation population, “This aircraft will do what we (Cessna) say it will do (based on our tests), and we have the evidential data to back it up.”

However, our newly minted amateur-built aircraft, with its Special Certificate of Airworthiness, doesn’t have an established risk profile. In fact when this certificate is issued, it hasn’t yet made its first flight. And we as pilots conduct a risk assessment and provide the risk profile for each and every aircraft in this category.

Risk

We builders produce aircraft that are very diverse in both the building process and in the level of the builder’s experience. For this reason, we have operating limitations for the first 25 hours of flight. During this time, we can’t fly over heavily populated areas; we can’t carry passengers; we can’t perform aerobatics; we can only fly in the daylight under VFR conditions; and we’re restricted to a 25-mile radius from our specified airport of operation.

During these 25 hours, we test our aircraft. We prove to ourselves and to Transport Canada through our logbook entries that our risk assessment produces the risk profile that will allow us to broaden our flights to include and/or exempt us from these initial operating conditions.

As you develop and use your flight test program through the first 25 hours (phase 1), you prove that the aircraft is acceptably safe for the different functions required of it. As you complete each test, log the data, and develop your pilot operating handbook based on the mathematical interpretation of the data, you’re developing your risk profile.

As you complete the 25-hour risk assessment program, it’s reasonable to say that the risk profile is acceptable, and you and your aircraft can progress to phase 2 of operations. Your aircraft flight-logs are examined by a Transport Canada official, and the operating limitations for your aircraft are lifted.

Risk

As the builder/owner of your amateur-built aircraft, you’re responsible for the ongoing airworthiness of the aircraft. Your yearly maintenance inspection and the sign-out addresses the risk management part of the equation.

Risk profiling, risk assessment, and risk management are all components of the risk mitigation used by our aviation industry. These tools increasingly show the general public that we are responsible people and not adrenalin junkies with a death wish. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “You must be crazy to fly in a homemade airplane!”

It’s clear that they just don’t get it, but there are also some among us that don’t completely get it as well.

For an analogy, you can consider that your risk profile is like your undercarriage.

If you don’t have one, you basically can’t fly.

If it’s damaged, you wouldn’t dare fly.

If it’s modified, you would check to see if it could and would cause problems.

Reference: Author has borrowed heavily from the article “Risk Profile: What Is It?” by Mark Rowe, technical coordinator, December/January Airsport – the Magazine of the Sport Aircraft Association of Australia.

To develop your own personal aircraft risk profile, sign up for the “How to Test Fly Your Aircraft and Develop Your Pilot Operating Handbook” course.

To manage your ongoing airworthiness program, sign up for “Annual Inspection and Sign-out of Your Amateur-built Aircraft”.

Both courses are proposed for this spring under EAA’s Sportair Workshops for Canada. Contact the writer at CGYRV@yahoo.com.

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