Review: "Practical Risk Management for Pilots" and "Practical Risk Management for Weather" (King Schools)

I recently ordered my first two CD-ROMs from John King and Martha King, who are very well known for their training down in the U.S.: Practical Risk Management for Pilots (USD 49.00) and Practical Risk Management for Weather (USD 49.00). Both require Windows (courses on Windows CD-ROM are sooooo 1980’s), but I won’t hold that against them. I have just finished working my way through both courses and printing out my certificates, and will share my opinions of both CD-ROMs (if you want to skip reading the rest, my conclusions are “definitely buy” and “don’t bother”). [Update: different opinion from Linda Pendleton on AvWeb.]

Practical Risk Management for Pilots

The first CD-ROM, Practical Risk Management for Pilots, is one of the best flying resources I’ve ever seen, and I tend to watch or read anything I can get my hands on. The production quality is clunky and the narrative and acting is downright horrible — to avoid embarrassment, I found myself working through the course mostly when no one else was home — but the content is very well though-out. The course is not about avoiding risk but about evaluating risk and deciding how much of it to take on; that’s the big difference between real risk management and the smug “what-an-idiot” accident-report analyses or trite sayings (“better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air…” or “a superior pilot uses his superior judgement…”) that usually masquerade as safety information for pilots, but actually do nothing to help us evaluate a flight and make decisions.

The Kings acknowledge that we have to accept a lot risk to fly at all — there is no such thing as a no-risk flight, and flying small planes is far more dangerous than driving — and their CD-ROM contains a series of videos, lessons, and exercises teaching us to analyze and classify risk the same way that we analyze the weather or our flight route. They sort the risks into categories, both pre-flight and in-flight, then offer the general rule of thumb that it’s OK to fly if the risks in only one category are marginal (i.e. if you’re just a little tired, but the weather’s excellent, the plane is good, and you’re under no pressure to complete the trip, then it’s probably still OK to fly). I like this kind of practical approach, and I’ve already started using it for my planning as icing season arrives here in Canada: learning how to manage risk systematically is like the difference between understanding weather reports and forecasts or just looking at the sky wondering if the weather’s going to be OK.

Practical Risk Management for Weather

I ordered both CD-ROMs at once, but even if I had not, after seeing how good the first one was I would have rushed out to buy the second one, Practical Risk Management for Weather. Unfortunately, this CD-ROM is an enormous disappointment. The vast majority of the material is rehashed from the first CD-ROM, including many of the same questions, scenarios, and videos. There are a handful of useful weather tips (i.e. choose an alternate along your route so that you can divert early; wind changes mean weather changes up ahead), but unlike risk management, this is common stuff available to pilots from many better sources: I think I remember that Richard Collins of Flying has a CD-ROM or DVD about weather. The only reason for buying this CD-ROM is that you’re a U.S. aircraft owner who insures with AVEMCO, because they’ll give you a 5% discount for completing the course. Those people should think of the second CD-ROM as a discount coupon; the rest of us shouldn’t bother.

Final Words

In the future, I expect much of the information in the first CD-ROM to become a standard part of every pilot’s training, so that analyzing risk systematically and properly is as important as calculating crosswind components or reading weather maps. That will be a good thing — perhaps the Kings’ biggest contribution to the aviation world — and it will more than make up for one bad CD-ROM. So I guess I don’t really begrudge them that extra USD 49.00.

Update: Linda Pendleton on AvWeb does not believe that King’s risk management courses are of much use, though she does not name them explicitly. She prefers what she calls “scenario-based training,” and also includes this little gem:

We take students to the practice area and drill them at length until they are able to do perfect turns around a point, s-turns along a road and lazy-eights. When was the last time a pilot was killed because the lazy eight was less than perfect?

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