Aviation Decision Making

ADM, or Aviation Decision Making, are all of the decisions made surrounding flying - from whether or not to even go flying in the first place, to discontinuing flight or completing flight as planned.

This is taken from the PHAK, either verbatim, or adapted.

Steps for good decision-making:

  1. Identify 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
  6. Evaluating the effectiveness of one’s ADM skills.

Risk Management

  1. Accept no unnecessary risk.
    Duh, flying has risk, but maybe don’t fly VFR in low visibility conditions? Or at least, do so with a CFI who has experience in those conditions, from whom you can learn.
  2. Make risk decisions at the appropriate level.
    PIC owns all the risk. Don’t let passengers bully you into violating 1, and don’t let ATC do so either. It’s always appropriate to tell ATC “unable” to a command.
  3. Accept risk when benefits outweigh costs.
    Don’t stack risks. Don’t fly an unfamiliar plane in MVFR conditions.
  4. Integrate risk management into planning at all levels.
    Not just in preflight planning, but at all stages of the flight. Maybe the weather goes to shit en-route. In which case, reconsider whether the increased risk is worth it, or maybe you can go somewhere else - or even just return back to where you came from.

Hazard and Risk

Hazard is a condition, event or circumstance (whether real or perceived) that a pilot encounters. Risk is the pilot’s assessment of the hazard. Note that different pilot’s can come up with different risks for the same hazard.

Hazardous Attitudes

Studies have identified 5 hazardous attitudes that can prevent making sound decisions:

AttitudePhraseAntidoteNotes
Anti-authorityDon’t tell meFollow the rules, they’re usually rightAviation regulations are often written in blood, their’s a very good reason to follow them.
ImpulsivityDo it quicklyNot so fast. Think first.Like with everything in modern life, thinking before you act is always the correct thing to do. Actually doing that, though, is much harder.
InvulnerabilityIt won’t happen to meIt could happen to mePower loss on takeoff is a thing that only happens to other people right? Wrong. It could totally happen, and be prepared in case that does happen
MachoI can do itTaking chances is foolishDon’t take unnecessary risks. Don’t do things to prove to yourself/others that you can. You’re already a cool person by being able to fly, you don’t have to prove anything.
ResignationWhat’s the use?I’m not helpless. I can make a differenceThis is, to me, probably the most deadly of the 5 attitudes. Getting into an emergency situation via the other 4 is bad, but then deciding that there’s nothing you can do - especially when there often is something you can do - is what will kill you. Less dramatically, letting someone bully you into going along with unreasonable requests can also kill you. You are PIC, you are in charge. Act like it.

Risk Assessment Matrix

Also copied, more or less, is a matrix on deciding how bad a particular risk is. With likelihood on one axis, and severity on the other.

Likelihood is expected chance that event will occur:

  • Probable: Will occur several times
  • Occasional: Will probably occur sometime (expected at least once)
  • Remote: Unexpected to occur, but possible
  • Improbably: Very unlikely to occur.

Severity is expected consequences of the event happening:

  • Catastrophic: Loss of life or property
  • Critical: Severe injury/major damage (expensive to repair, insurance might declare plane totaled)
  • Marginal: Minor injury/minor damage (only a few AMUs of damage)
  • Negligible: Less than minor injury/damage
Severity
Likelihood Catastrophic Critical Marginal Negligible
Probable High High Serious Medium
Occassional High Serious Medium Low
Remote Serious Medium Medium Low
Improbable Medium Medium Medium Low

Mitigating Risk

The way to mitigate risk is one of either:

  • Cancel the flight
  • Delay the flight
  • Bring someone more experienced who can help you address the risk

Roughly in order of likelihood.

One suggested way to eliminate the “must go home” pressure is to always bring an overnight kit with you, so that if you do get stuck somewhere you’re at least fine for the night.

Remember, the general rule for choosing to fly GA to a place is:

Time to spare, go by air.