Using the 3P Model To Form Good Safety Habits

in Aeronautical Decision Making

As discussed in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, the Perceive, Process, Perform (3P) model helps a pilot assess and manage risk effectively in the real world. [Figure 14-6]

Figure 14-6. 3P Model.

Figure 14-6. 3P Model.

To use this model, the pilot will:


  • Perceive hazards
  • Process level of risk
  • Perform risk management

Let’s put this to use through a common scenario, involving a common task, such as a confined area approach. As is often the case, the continuous loop consists of several elements; each element must be addressed through the 3P process.

A utility helicopter pilot receives the task of flying four passengers into a remote area for a hunting expedition. The passengers have picked the location where they would like to be dropped off based on the likelihood of wildlife patterns for the area. The area has steep, rugged terrain in a series of valleys and canyons leading up to large mountains.

Upon arrival at the location, the pilot locates a somewhat large confined area near the base of one of the mountains. The pilot begins the 3P process by quickly noting (or perceiving) the hazards that affect the approach, landing, and takeoff. Through thorough assessment the pilot takes into consideration:

  • Current aircraft weight/power available,
  • Required approach angle to clear the trees for landing in the confined area,
  • Wind direction and velocity,
  • Limited approach and departure paths (due to constricting terrain),
  • Escape routes should the approach need to be terminated prior to landing,
  • Possible hazards, such as wires or structures either around the landing site or inside of the confined area, and
  • The condition of the terrain at the landing site. Mud, dust, and snow can be extreme hazards if the pilot is not properly trained to land in those particular conditions.

The pilot reviews the 3P process for each hazard. The pilot has perceived the risk associated for each of the bullets listed above. Now, the pilot assesses the risk level of each and what to do to manage or mitigate the risk.

The aircraft weight/power risk is assessed as low. While performing power checks, the pilot verified adequate out of ground effect (OGE) power exists. The pilot is also aware that, in this scenario, the departure DA (6,500 feet) is greater than the arrival location DA (6,000 feet) and that several hundred pounds of fuel have been burned off en route. Furthermore, once the passengers have disembarked, more power will be available for departure.

The pilot estimates that the highest obstacles along the approach path are 70–80 feet in height. With the size of the confined area, a normal approach angle can be maintained to clear these obstacles, giving this a low risk level. To further mitigate this risk the pilot has selected mental checkpoints along the approach path that will serve as go/ no-go points should the pilot feel any assessed parameter is being exceeded.

Wind direction and velocity are assessed as a medium risk because (for this scenario) the direction of the wind is slightly offset from the chosen approach path, creating a 15–20° crosswind with a steady 10-knot wind. The pilot also takes into consideration that, due to the terrain, the wind direction and velocity may change during the approach. The pilot’s experience and awareness of the complexity of mountain flow wind provide a management tool for risk reduction.

From an approach and departure standpoint, the risk is assessed to be medium. There is only one viable approach and departure path. Given the size of the confined area and the wind direction, the approach and departure path is deemed acceptable.

The pilot assigns a medium risk level to the selection of an escape route. The pilot is aware of the constricting terrain on either side. Although adequate area exists for maneuvering, the pilot realizes there are physical boundaries and that they can affect the options available should the pilot need to conduct a go-around or abort the approach. Again, the pilot uses mental checkpoints to ensure an early decision is made to conduct a go-around, if needed. The selected go-around or escape route will be in line with the selected approach/ departure path and generally into the wind.

As you may have noticed, one identified hazard and its correlating risk management action may have subsequent impact on other factors. This demonstrates the need for continuous assessment and evaluation of the impact of chosen courses of action.

The 3P model offers three good reasons for its use. First, it is fairly simple to remember. Second, it offers a structured, efficient, and systematic way to identify hazards, assess risk, and implement effective risk controls. Third, practicing risk management needs to be as automatic as basic aircraft control. As is true for other flying skills, risk management thinking habits are best developed through repetition and consistent adherence to specific procedures.

Once the pilot completes the 3P decision process and selects a course of action, the process begins anew as the set of circumstances brought about by the selected course of action requires new analysis. Thus, the decision-making process is a continuous loop of perceiving, processing, and performing.

51l0aN891BL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_Are you ready to start your journey learning to fly helicopters? Learning to Fly Helicopters, Second Edition, provides details on the technical and practical aspects of rotarywing flight. Written in a conversational style, the book demystifies the art and science of helicopter flying.


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