What Is a Flight Risk Assessment Tool
A flight risk assessment tool, commonly known as FRAT, is a very important element of your SMS program.
Every flight has risks and hazards.
Using a FRAT tool helps airline SMS programs evaluate review and identify those risks. Based on this FRAT review process, safety programs can develop mitigation strategies.
A FRAT tool contains a list of various questions. Each question has a “risk level” attached to it. Counting up the risk level of each question will provide the total risk assessment score for the flight. Questions are weighted differently, meaning that different questions affect total risk differently.
After using a FRAT to evaluate an operation, you will have:
- An overall risk assessment score for the flight;
- A risk profile for each phase of the flight;
- A list of most relevant hazard and risk concerns to pay attention to; and
- A document to compare against organizational definition for acceptable level of safety.
FRAT tools help you evaluate whether or not a flight is:
- Green: good to fly;
- Yellow: good to fly but some action is required to mitigate some higher scoring items; and
- Red: not safe to fly.
Because using a FRAT is a natural risk assessment process, some organizations use it as the backbone tool in their aviation SMS program.
FRAT as Backbone of Aviation SMS Program
Using FRAT as the backbone of your SMS program usually means that it is the primary tool used to:
- Identifying hazards;
- Acquire hazard data;
- Assess operational risk; and
- Communicate risk to employees.
You can compare this to other SMS programs, which will generally use something like an issue manager as the backbone of their SMS program. There are pros and cons to using a FRAT as your aviation SMS backbone.
Pros of Using FRAT as Backbone
Some of the reasons aviation risk management programs opt to build their SMS program around a FRAT tool is that FRATs:
- Proactively address risk (i.e., before hazard/risk occurrence);
- Are much easier than integrated SMS program;
- Are easy to get started and use, such as on your cell phone;
- Provide a cheap way to have SMS program; and
- Require no extra software or point solutions.
In other words, using a FRAT as SMS backbone is the feather-weight option for airline SMS programs. Some real-world use cases for this are:
- Absolutely no budget for safety program;
- Very small airline operator, such as with private charter flights; and
- No personnel with any SMS experience.
While these aren’t exactly the most bonafide reasons for using FRAT as an SMS backbone, they are none the less a reality for some operators.
That being said, it is unrealistic for many operators to try and use FRAT as an SMS backbone AND maintain safe operations.
Cons of Using FRAT as Backbone
For most aviation SMS programs, FRAT will be a nice addition to the SMS programs suite of safety tools. However, it would be a bad option as an SMS backbone because with FRAT for the following reasons:
- Hard to manage risk with issue management, corrective actions;
- Not a thorough assessment of hazards and risks for any areas of operations beyond flights;
- Not a compliant SMS program;
- Does not provide data for operational risk profile;
- Cannot manage safety concerns with it (FRAT simply provides a proactive assessment); and
- FRAT is best suited as a data acquisition process rather than hazard/risk management process.
There are more cons beyond these, but this list should be enough to establish the following fact: FRAT as an SMS backbone will simply be a bad idea for most, but not all, aviation service providers.
Final Thought: Moving from FRAT Backbone to Integrated Aviation SMS Software
Because of the discussed reasons why some aviation service providers use FRAT as their risk management backbone, it can be very difficult for such organizations to move towards an integrated approach. An integrated approach to risk management means using various tools (or modules) together to manage risk.
Some baby steps that an organization using primarily a FRAT tool can take to upgrade their SMS program are:
- Adopt a tool for issue management;
- Transition FRAT from a backbone process to a data collection process;
- Acquire a light-weight aviation safety software; and/or
- Acquire other point-solutions.
Published October 2017. Last updated February 2020.