It is important to point out the fact that being familiar with the decision-making process does not ensure the good judgment to be a safe pilot. The ability to make effective decisions as pilot in command depends on a number of factors. Some circumstances, such as the time available to make a decision may be beyond a pilot’s control. However, one can learn to recognize those factors that can be managed, and learn skills to improve decision-making ability and judgment.



The pilot in command of an airplane is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that airplane. To effectively exercise that responsibility and make effective decisions regarding the outcome of a flight, a pilot should be aware of personal limitations. Performance during a flight is affected by many factors, such as health, recency of experience, knowledge, skill level, and attitude.

Exercising good judgment begins prior to taking the controls of an airplane. Often, pilots thoroughly check their airplane to determine airworthiness, yet do not evaluate their own fitness for flight. Just as a checklist is used when preflighting an airplane, a personal checklist based on such factors as experience, currency, and comfort level can help determine if a pilot is prepared for a particular flight. Specifying when refresher training should be accomplished and designating weather minimums that may be higher than those listed in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 are elements that may be included on a personal checklist. In addition to a review of personal limitations, use the I’M SAFE Checklist to further evaluate fitness for flight. [Figure 1]

Figure 1. Prior to flight, pilot fitness should be assessed the same as the airplane's airworthiness is evaluated.







Everyone is stressed to some degree almost all the time. A certain amount of stress is good since it keeps a person alert and prevents complacency. However, effects of stress are cumulative and, if not coped with adequately, they eventually add up to an intolerable burden. Performance generally increases with the onset of stress, peaks, and then begins to fall off rapidly as stress levels exceed a person’s ability to cope. The ability to make effective decisions during flight can be impaired by stress. Factors, referred to as stressors, can increase a pilot’s risk of error in the cockpit. [Figure 2]


Physical Stress—Conditions associated with the environment, such as temperature and humidity extremes, noise, vibration, and lack of oxygen.


Physiological Stress—Physical conditions, such as fatigue, lack of physical fitness, sleep loss, missed meals (leading to low blood sugar levels), and illness.

Psychological Stress—Social or emotional factors, such as a death in the family, a divorce, a sick child, or a demotion at work. This type of stress may also be related to mental workload, such as analyzing a problem, navigating an aircraft, or making decisions.


Figure 2. The three types of stressors that can affect a pilot’s performance.

There are several techniques to help manage the accumulation of life stresses and prevent stress overload. For example, including relaxation time in a busy schedule and maintaining a program of physical fitness can help reduce stress levels. Learning to manage time more effectively can help avoid heavy pressures imposed by getting behind schedule and not meeting deadlines. Take a self-assessment to determine capabilities and limitations and then set realistic goals. In addition, avoiding stressful situations and encounters can help to cope with stress.


Situational awareness is the accurate perception of the operational and environmental factors that affect the airplane, pilot, and passengers during a specific period of time. Maintaining situational awareness requires an understanding of the relative significance of these factors and their future impact on the flight. When situationally aware, the pilot has an overview of the total operation and is not fixated on one perceived significant factor. Some of the elements inside the airplane to be considered are the status of airplane systems, and also the pilot and passengers. In addition, an awareness of the environmental conditions of the flight, such as spatial orientation of the airplane, and its relationship to terrain, traffic, weather, and airspace must be maintained.

To maintain situational awareness, all of the skills involved in aeronautical decision making are used. For example, an accurate perception of pilot fitness can be achieved through self-assessment and recognition of hazardous attitudes. A clear assessment of the status of navigation equipment can be obtained through workload management, and establishing a productive relationship with ATC can be accomplished by effective resource use.


There are a number of classic behavioral traps into which pilots have been known to fall. Pilots, particularly those with considerable experience, as a rule, always try to complete a flight as planned, please passengers, and meet schedules. The basic drive to meet or exceed goals can have an adverse effect on safety, and can impose an unrealistic assessment of piloting skills under stressful conditions. These tendencies ultimately may bring about practices that are dangerous and often illegal, and may lead to a mishap. A pilot will develop awareness and learn to avoid many of these operational pitfalls through effective ADM training. [Figure 3]


Peer Pressure—Poor decision making may be based upon an emotional response to peers, rather than evaluating a situation objectively.


Mind Set—A pilot displays mind set through an inability to recognize and cope with changes in a given situation.

Get-There-Itis—This disposition impairs pilot judgment through a fixation on the original goal or destination, combined with a disregard for any alternative course of action.

Duck-Under Syndrome—A pilot may be tempted to make it into an airport by descending below minimums during an approach. There may be a belief that there is a built-in margin of error in every approach procedure, or a pilot may want to admit that the landing cannot be completed and a missed approach must be initiated.

Scud Running—This occurs when a pilot tries to maintain visual contact with the terrain at low altitudes while instrument conditions exist.

Continuing Visual Flight Rules (VFR) into Instrument Conditions—Spatial disorientation or collision with ground/obstacles may occur when a pilot continues VFR into instrument conditions. This can be even more dangerous if the pilot is not instrument-rated or current.

Getting Behind the Aircraft —This pitfall can be caused by allowing events or the situation to control pilot actions. A constant state of surprise at what happens next may be exhibited when the pilot is getting behind the aircraft.

Loss of Positional or Situational Awareness—In extreme cases, when a pilot gets behind the aircraft, a loss of positional or situational awareness may result. The pilot may not know the aircraft's geographical location, or may be unable to recognize deteriorating circumstances.

Operating Without Adequate Fuel Reserves—Ignoring minimum fuel reserve requirements is generally the result of overconfidence, lack of flight planning, or disregarding applicable regulations.

Descent Below the Minimum En Route Altitude—The duck-under syndrome, as mentioned above, can also occur during the en route portion of an IFR flight.

Flying Outside the Envelope—The assumed high performance capability of a particular aircraft may cause a mistaken belief that it can meet the demands imposed by a pilot's overestimated flying skills.

Neglect of Flight Planning, Preflight Inspections, and Checklists—A pilot may rely on short- and long-term memory, regular flying skills, and familiar routes instead of established procedures and published checklists. This can be particularly true of experienced pilots.


Figure 3. All experienced pilots have fallen prey to, or have been tempted by, one or more of these tendencies in their flying careers.


Reference : http://www.ultraflightradio.com/segmenthelp/aeronautical-decision-making.html