Aeronautical decision making, "ADM, is a systematic approach to the mental process used by aircraft pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances. Risk Management is the part of the decision making process which relies on situational awareness, problem recognition, and good judgment to reduce risks associated with each flight. Risk Elements in ADM take into consideration the four fundamental risk elements: the pilot, the aircraft, the environment, and the type of operation that comprise any given aviation situation." (5) "It is usually not a single decision that leads to an accident, but a chain of events triggered by a number of factors. The poor judgment chain, sometimes referred to as the "error chain," is a term used to describe this concept of contributing factors in a human factors-related accident." (19)


"Steps for good decision making are:

  1. Identifying personal attitudes hazardous to safe flight.
  2. Learning behavior modification techniques.
  3. Learning how to recognize and cope with stress.
  4. Developing risk assessment skills.
  5. Using all resources in a multicrew situation.
  6. Evaluating the effectiveness of one's ADM skills." (5)


"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, meet schedules, and generally demonstrate that they have the 'right stuff.' The basic drive to demonstrate the 'right stuff' can have an adverse effect on safety and can impose an unrealistic assessment of piloting skills under stressful conditions. These tendencies ultimately may lead to practices that are dangerous and often illegal, and may lead to a mishap." (5)

These dangerous tendencies or behavior patterns, which must be identified and eliminated, include:


"Each ADM student should take the Self-Assessment Hazardous Attitude Inventory Test in order to gain a realistic perspective on his/her attitudes toward flying." (5) The test can be accessed by selecting Hazardous Attitude Inventory Test

"ADM addresses the following five hazardous attitudes. Antiauthority; Impulsivity; Invulnerability; Macho; Resignation Hazardous attitudes which contribute to poor pilot judgment can be effectively counteracted by redirecting that hazardous attitude so that appropriate action can be taken. Recognition of hazardous thoughts is the first step in neutralizing them in the ADM process. This chapter is designed to familiarize the pilot with a means of counteracting hazardous attitudes with an appropriate antidote thought.
When a pilot recognizes a thought as hazardous, the pilot should label that thought as hazardous, then correct that thought by stating the corresponding antidote. The basic definitions, the self-assessment test, the hazardous attitudes, and the antidotes represent the foundation for understanding the factors of good ADM." (5)

Antiauthority: Don't tell me. Follow the rules. They are usually right.
Impulsivity: Do something quickly. Not so fast. Think first.
Invulnerability: It won't happen to me. It could happen to me.
Macho: I can do it. Taking chances is foolish.
Resignation: What's the use? I'm not helpless. I can make a difference.


Stress is an inevitable part of life. Some stress may enhance performance, but pilots must be prepared to deal with the negative effect of excessive stress. "If you hope to succeed at reducing stress associated with crisis management in the air or with your job, it is essential to begin by making a personal assessment of stress in all areas of your life. Good cockpit stress management begins with good life stress management. Many of the stress coping techniques practiced for life stress management are not usually practical in flight. Rather, you must condition yourself to relax and think rationally when stress appears."(5) "Fatigue, stress, and work overload can cause a pilot to fixate on a single perceived important item rather than maintaining an overall awareness of the flight situation."(19)


The Decide Model is a useful tool in making aeronautical decisions:

  1. Detect. The decision maker detects the fact that change has occurred.
  2. Estimate. The decision maker estimates the need to counter or react to the change.
  3. Choose. The decision maker chooses a desirable outcome (in terms of success) for the flight.
  4. Identify. The decision maker identifies actions that could successfully control the change.
  5. Do. The decision maker takes the necessary action.
  6. Evaluate. The decision maker evaluates the effect(s) of his action countering the change.

"Most preventable accidents have one common factor: human error, rather than a mechanical malfunction." (5)

"Students must be exposed to this material early in their pilot training, ideally during the first quarter of the student standard private pilot training course." (5)

© 2005 Jim D. Burch 602-942-2734

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