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Aviation Decision Making

Pilot Decision Making

Good decision making involves several mental qualities and skills from a pilot. These are: personal attitudes which are dangerous to safe flight, recognizing and handling stress, risk assessment skills, recognizing and willing to change your behavior and the ability to evaluate these skills.

To most pilots or people these skills do not come naturally, at least not all of them. With some study and learning we become better and even master them to our advantage and become a better and safer pilot. We can learn to recognize the negative traits in our character and turn them around positively by self reflection or with help of a mental coach.

Aviation safety and cockpit crew communication all benefit from this and even general aviation pilots can learn to handle these hazardous attitudes to their advantage.

Hazardous Attitudes

Basically there are five different human attitudes which can and will affect how a pilot makes a decision. Understanding how they apply to your flying is important. These attitudes are:

  • Anti-Authority: "Don't tell me!" - When people have this attitude they may resent having someone tell them what to do or they think of rules and regs as silly or unneeded.
  • Impulsive: "Do something quickly!" - This is what people do when they feel the need to do something, anything and now. Usually they do the first thing that pops up in them.
  • Invulnerability: "It won't happen to me!" - Accidents happen only to other people. Thinking this may lead to taking more unnecessary risks.
  • Macho: "I can do it!" - These guys we all know. Trying to prove that they are better than anyone else and taking more risks. Both sexes are susceptible to this attitude.
  • Resignation: "What's the use?" - These people think that they do not make a great deal of difference in what happens to them. When things are going well they think: "Good luck". And when things are not so well, they seem to think that someone is out to get them.

Most people have a mix of these attitudes with them since the day they were born and some attitudes are more prominent than others. It makes them to what they are, interesting!

For pilots it may seem that one or two of these attitudes is helpful but its the combination of all of these that will create a mentally balanced person able to handle all possible situations they might encounter during their flight career.

Antidotes for Hazardous Attitudes

It is obvious that any one of these above attitudes can be dangerous to a pilot. Antidotes have been developed to become aware and to counteract the hazardous attitude.

Below we have a list which shows the attitude and antidote for it:

Hazardous Attitude Antidote
Anti-authority: Don't tell me! Follow the rules, they are usually right. Do not let your independence bend the rules to get your way, as it will backfire.
Impulsive: Do something quickly! Not so fast, think first. Most situations in the cockpit do not require 1 second snap decisions and the pilot has time to evaluate and choose an action.
Invulnerability: It won't happen to me! It could happen to me. Because you never had an engine fail or weather turn bad it does not mean it will never happen to you.
Macho: I can do it! Taking changes is foolish. Although a certain amount of confidence is required for flying and you are feeling more capable when your skills improve, its important to keep a realistic view.
Resignation: What's the use? I'm not helpless, I can make a difference. Sometimes outside pressures will push you to leave the final go no-go decision to an external factor in stead of keeping to a safety mindset and decide for yourself if a flight is safe.


It is doubtful that anyone could fly an airplane without a balance of these attitudes. The perfect pilot (if there is such a pilot) has a mix of equally balanced characteristics. But as no one is perfect some of these characteristics will be stronger than others in a person.


To prevent one of these attitudes becoming too dominant or stronger than others, you need to remember the antidotes for each of them. And I mean by heart! So that they are immediately available to you when you need them.

Although you need to bear in mind that recognizing your own character attitudes or peculiarities can be difficult at times, it helps when someone explains your actions as they saw them. Or at least spend some time on self reflection, rethink what you did and why.

Written by EAI.

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