What Are Your Personal Minimums?


Lately, I’ve written a few posts about how being a professional pilot has had a major impact on my day-to-day life. This week I realized another benefit. A major issue came up, and as I was trying to decide whether or not to push through or hang back and gather more information, the word personal minimums flashed across my brain synapses’. Most of you probably realize, either from reading past posts, or from knowing someone who works in the aviation industry, that a pilot’s workplace is heavily regulated by specific and enforced rules put out by the Federal Aviation Administration. (FAA) There are clear written regulations (regs) for how many hours you can work––called duty time–– and how many hours you need off between flights––referred to as rest periods. Subsections of these regs address the gray area––if you work longer than the maximum allowed time, how much extra off duty hours do you earn for your rest period––a credit system called compensatory rest. Other guidance the FAA graciously provides is the minimum elapsed time between drinking an alcoholic beverage and climbing into a cockpit. Also, when you can, and cannot take cold medicine or allergy preventatives. All these regulations are spelled out to help pilots balance life and the responsibilities that come with managing a cockpit. I’ve heard athletes call this process as getting game ready, but aviators commonly refer to their flight ready items as minimums.

But that’s just part of the story. At some point in my career there was a movement to take the FAA’s framework a step further, and fine tune other contributing factors that might interfere with a pilot’s flight readiness, aka personal minimums. In addition to the regs, pilot’s lives also revolve around checklists, so when this industry mindset was introduced, it made sense to put the items in a to do type format. For example, during flight planning, a captain checks and sees what the weather and runway conditions are forecasted to be at the scheduled destination. Then, the cloud cover, visibility and required runway numbers would be plugged into a chart or graph and the pilot would know exactly how much runway they would need to land and if the weather was suitable to complete the flight safely. Pretty straight forward. What this formula didn’t take into account, however, were the factors that affect each individual pilot on any given day. Did they actually get to sleep during their rest period? Or were they up all night listening to the elevator cycle or other hotel guests partying in the hall? Had they been on vacation and not flown for a few weeks? Or had they just come out of recurrent training and were at the top of their game? The logic was that human beings aren’t robots and can’t possibly show up to work in the exact same physical state every day. (Even pilots.)

In some occupations, this ebb and flow of biorhythms and life is not a deal. But in other fields, like piloting, this state of not being 100 percent all of the time could have grave consequences. So another chart was developed (I’ve attached a sample below) to list possible symptoms pilots might experience before clocking in at the hanger, and parameters that state how to make adjustments to their flight planning to compensate for being human.

PAVE Adjustment Factors

If you skim the chart attached, you’ll see items such as illness, stress––typical stuff––and if you trace across the grid, notice how the pilot is required to adjust the FAA’s baseline regulations. The goal of the corrections is to make conditions more conservative––higher clouds at the landing airport, better visibility and extra runway–– in order to take in account the normal circumstances that can effect every human on the planet. A plan that promotes everyone’s safety.

With all that being said, let’s go back to my pending issue. What if while deciding to push through or step back and get more information, I made a chart similar to the one created for   pilot’s personal minimums.

What if in the If you are facing column, I wrote:

A day where I didn’t get much sleep the night before.

The number of tasks that need to be accomplished exceed the time I have available.

Dealing with a family crisis, loss, disappointment or life changing event.


Then in the Adjust the personal minimums column, I followed suit and listed possible alternatives:

Reschedule any interactions that could be heated or have potential to blow up into conflicts.  Delay making major decisions until feeling more clearheaded and balanced.

Scan your schedule and see if all of the items on your to do list are absolutely time critical and imperative.

Delay interacting with family until you are more rested. (ie. Don’t call your mother-in-law if you’re overwhelmed or engage in a battle of wills with your spouse or children. I’m just saying.)

After plugging my issue into my makeshift personal minimums chart, the answer to the dilemma was obvious. Hang back, have a snack and get a good night sleep. Then, when rested and armed with more information, I can return to my push through attitude level-headed.

EL Chappel author of Spirit Dance/Storm Makers/Risk

What works in once space can work in another.

“Keep your mind open…”(Yep, that’s right. Pablo again.)

aka The Glamorous Wife

*photo credit: faasafety.gov

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