When we fly as pilots in volunteer organizations such as those that fly patients for medical treatment, veterans for memorial services, wounded warriors, or even animals to places of new homes, we do so with the trust of those people that we are capable and that we will safely get them to their destinations.
They are not pilots, they do not necessarily know us or our aircraft, and they probably have no idea of how to evaluate whether we are proficient to complete the flights we are undertaking. It is up to us to be responsible in our decisions on whether we, our aircraft, or they, are safe to complete any particular flight.
Choosing appropriate minimums is a significant part of this process. And we have to do it with added pressure not present on our pleasure flights, the pressure to complete the flight based on external pressures.
In many types of public benefit flying, no particular operational minimums are prescribed by the organization coordinating the flight providers and recipients. It is up to the pilot (or crew when two crew are required) to make this decision. With the added pressure of a perceived need to complete a flight, it can become tempting for a pilot or crew to fly in conditions that may be less than they would normally. The best way to fight this is to have an established procedure ahead of time for determining go/no-go minimums decisions and hold to it when we do any public benefit flying.
For many of these flights, there are unique considerations. In operations where two crew are required the PIC and SIC may not have even flown with each other before. An SIC may not be familiar with a particular aircraft or its avionics, but still be a valuable service to the PIC who owns or operates the aircraft. Having two crew can be a bonus, but having an unfamiliar crew member may be of less help than one that is more familiar. Frequently these flights are to airports the pilot(s) is not familiar with or to which they travel infrequently. It is things such as this that we must evaluate on a case by case basis along with weather, airport, loading, and all other factors.
When we learned to fly and as we add skills such as an instrument rating, we are taught about setting personal minimums. But for many of us, this is the last time that we consider them, when in fact, we should be considering them on every flight and changing them with every unique flight.
There has been much written already about setting them, but a refresh is always a good idea.
A savvy pilot would spend a little time searching the internet in some down time to find a tool that will help them best determine what risks are factors on each operation. Many are available, and it becomes a matter of personal taste which one works best for each individual. Find the one that works best for you.
The FAA Safety Team has published information that can be helpful for Flight Risk Assessment Tool that can be found by clicking here.
The AOPA has a great tool, a flight risk evaluator, that is one option a pilot may consider. Click Here for the AOPA Flight Risk Evaluator.
Want to learn more? The FAA also has published a document, FAA/Industry Training Standards Personal and Weather Risk Assessment Guide, that has greater detail and a highly detailed worksheet that could be used when considering the risks of a particular flight.
I strongly encourage all of us who do any public benefit flying to review our own methods for determining our go/no-go decisions based on our own personal minimums. As we consider the trust that those who fly with us have put in our skills and decision making, it is the least we can do.