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Aviation Decision Making

Aeronautical Decision Making

Flying is a series of events requiring you to make a continuous streams of decisions. One decision after another and the previous one influences the next one. Decisions like: We're low on fuel -> where is the nearest airport -> with the correct fuel type -> and so on.

These kind of decisions also happen throughout our whole lives, so that what we discuss here can be advantageous to other areas too.

Everyone flying an aircraft has, at one point or another in his or her flying career, has had to make decisions about fuel, weather diversion or even passenger well being.

Basic pilot airmanship and plain common sense are one of the most important factors here and these should be emphasised upon during initial and recurrent pilot training.

It is interesting to learn and to see how the human pilot interacts with the aircraft and operates in the flight environment.
Especially when the going get tough during night flights, turbulent or bad weather and other challenges for the pilot.

Decision factors

The interrelating aviation events we encounter are between people involved (cockpit crew), the aircraft, flight environment and these all occur over time. We can divide them into five parts:

  • Pilot - The pilot makes continuous decisions about his/her own competence and general feeling (health or fatigue).
  • Aircraft - The state of the aircraft is a huge source of information for the pilot on which he will base his decisions.
  • Environment - Environment is where the pilot and the aircraft operates. Think of weather, runway, traffic etc.
  • Operation - This is the interaction of the previous three items in terms of: is everything going as planned?
  • Situation - Basically, situation is knowing what's going on around you and the aircraft. Thus the sum of the above four items.

The Situation is the sum of: Pilot, Aircraft, Environment and the Operation. Any situation is therefore affected by these four interrelated items. This relationship is the situational awareness of the pilot. The higher this is, the safer he or she is when acting as in that role.

ADM - Aeronautical Decision Making

Any decision making process is complex, but in this situation it can be broken down into six well known parts suited for our explanation:

  • Detect - the fact that we have a change
  • Estimate - the need to do something about it
  • Choose - a successful outcome
  • Identify - actions to control the change
  • Do - the identified action
  • Evaluate - effect of the action on the change

The above process DECIDE is not limited to aviation but can be applied on any situation in our lives. There are several items concerned with good decision making and safe flying. Pilot attitude, risk assessment skill, recognizing and handling stress, how to learn from and change behaviour and last but not least evaluating one's own decision making skills.


The DECIDE model is not very practical in case of an emergency where time may be running out or altitude is lost quickly. Decisions in emergencies must follow a shorter model with the unfortunate mnemonic DIE:

  • Detect the need for an action
  • Implement the response as dictated in emergency checklists
  • Evaluate the outcome of that response


Now you know why regular practice and a good review of emergency procedures are crucial. In a real emergency you might not have the time to implement the DECIDE model. Instinctive reaction might be needed to get the situation quickly under control. Training, training and more training on emergency procedures is necessary to counteract emergencies when needed.

Written by EAI.

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