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Red Rules

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Getting the Most From Your Flight Training, May, 2008
CFIDarren Newsletter, January 17, 2012
Navigation:  Threat & Error Management Series | New Captain Series | Fundamentals of CRM | Resolving Conflict | Workload Management | Checklist Usage | Briefings & Callouts | Training CRM | Threats to Safety | Error Management | What are you doing over there? | General Aviation Human FactorsProfessionalism | FOTA

More rules?  Isn't aviation filled with enough rules?  Well… Red Rules are meant to keep you alive.  Sure, we've all heard of Personal Minimums.  No doubt some of us have used the Personal Minimums Checklist.  Some may have even created a set of personal minimums to guide your flight operations.  Those that actually have are rare.

Too much of life is interrupt driven and full of distractions.  Work and personal pressures can sometimes paralyze your best efforts. For many of us, flying is the diversion that helps us recover from the crushing weight of life.  It's for you that Red Rules are designed for.

Maybe you're the professional pilot whose goal is to keep your eye on the rules non-stop.  You've got a set of operation specifications or a Flight Operations Manual which guides your every movement.  Rules are your lifeline to safe flight operations.  Well its also for you that Red Rules are designed for. 

What Are Red Rules?

Now that you're convinced Red Rules apply to your flying, you should know what they are.  Red rules are those rules which you create for yourself which are meant to be followed to the letter.  An example is drinking and driving.  But there are hundreds of examples and I need your help creating them.  I said that Red Rules are meant to be followed to the letter, but what I really mean is that Red Rules protect you from Excess Risk.  A violation of a Red Rule simply puts you into a higher level of risk.  It's the beyond which behavior is considered reckless.

As pilots, we have a prime directive:  Avoid Unjustified Risk.  If we fail at this, we're likely to get hurt and hurt others.

But can't we make a mistake?  You betcha -- that's the nature of being human.  That's where Red Rules protect us.  Because Red Rules cover things inimical to flying.  Whether we cut the corner is a choice --  Red Rules help us to make good choices. 

Does compliance with a Red Rule prevent you from handling emergencies?

FAR 91.3 says:   "in an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command
may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency."

The creation of Red Rules are meant to keep you on the safe side of all flight operations.   Considering the Red Rule model (above right), you'd never get to the typical emergency if you stay on the green side of the Red Rules. 

The Difference Between Personal Minimums & Red Rules

The short answer: both are meant to keep you from falling off the cliff.  Personal Minimums are set where you might not know where the cliff edge is located.  Red Rules are the fence near the cliff's edge that keep you from going over.  The only question that remains is how far from the cliff edge do you want to be?   When the emergency is happening, you don't have to think about your decision.  A Red Rule kept you from going off the edge.

Implementing Red Rules

If you've never looked at the
Personal Minimums Checklist, then now is the time.  If you already have a set of personal minimums then implementing Red Rules will be easy for you.  Even if you don't have a set of personal minimums, this won't be difficult.  The Personal Minimums Checklist will give you a framework for managing risk in your flight operations. From this framework, I want you to come up with one rule that you'll never violate.  That's your first Red Rule.

The list you develop will vary based on your certification and skill level as a pilot.  For example, a student pilot's first Red Rule might be:
For traffic pattern work, I will not fly without a ceiling of at least 2000'.

An instrument rated Commercial Pilot's first Red Rule might be:
I will not fly if thunderstorms are forecast within 25 miles of my route of flight.

Just as a good set of Personal Minimums will, Red Rules will help you to avoid pressures of the moment.  There's no bending of Red Rules however.  We fundamentally understand that operation outside the Red Rules mean excess risk which can lead to injury. 

I challenge you to create your first Red Rule now.  Do it right now while ideas are fresh in your mind.  Once you have that Red Rule in your mind.  Send it to me using the form below.  The mere act of typing it out will not only solidify it in your mind, it will become a contract between you and me.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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