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Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
Aeronautical Decision-Making
Decision-Making in a Dynamic Environment

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Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge



Table of Contents

Chapter 1, Introduction To Flying
Chapter 2, Aircraft Structure
Chapter 3, Principles of Flight
Chapter 4, Aerodynamics of Flight
Chapter 5, Flight Controls
Chapter 6, Aircraft Systems
Chapter 7, Flight Instruments
Chapter 8, Flight Manuals and Other Documents
Chapter 9, Weight and Balance
Chapter 10, Aircraft Performance
Chapter 11, Weather Theory
Chapter 12, Aviation Weather Services
Chapter 13, Airport Operation
Chapter 14, Airspace
Chapter 15, Navigation
Chapter 16, Aeromedical Factors
Chapter 17, Aeronautical Decision Making

Since the pilot never executed the first step of identifying
which engine failed, he feathered the left engine and set the
right engine at zero thrust. This essentially restricted the
aircraft to a controlled glide. Upon realizing that he was not
going to make the runway, the pilot increased power to both
engines causing an enormous yaw to the left (the left propeller
was feathered) whereupon the aircraft started to turn left.
In desperation, the instructor closed both throttles and the
aircraft hit the ground and was substantially damaged.

This case is interesting because it highlights two particular
issues. First, taking action without forethought can be just
as dangerous as taking no action at all. In this case, the
pilot's actions were incorrect; yet, there was sufficient
time to take the necessary steps to analyze the simulated
emergency. The second and more subtle issue is that decisions
made under pressure are sometimes executed based upon
limited experience and the actions taken may be incorrect,
incomplete, or insufficient to handle the situation.

Detect (the Problem)
Problem detection is the first step in the decision-making
process. It begins with recognizing a change occurred or an
expected change did not occur. A problem is perceived first
by the senses and then it is distinguished through insight
and experience. These same abilities, as well as an objective
analysis of all available information, are used to determine the
nature and severity of the problem. One critical error made
during the decision-making process is incorrectly detecting
the problem. In the example above, the change that occurred
was a yaw.

Estimate (the Need To React)
In the engine-out example, the aircraft yawed right, the pilot
was on final approach, and the problem warranted a prompt
solution. In many cases, overreaction and fixation excludes
a safe outcome. For example, what if the cabin door of a
Mooney suddenly opened in flight while the aircraft climbed
through 1,500 feet on a clear sunny day? The sudden opening
would be alarming, but the perceived hazard the open door
presents is quickly and effectively assessed as minor. In
fact, the door's opening would not impact safe flight and
can almost be disregarded. Most likely, a pilot would return
to the airport to secure the door after landing.

The pilot flying on a clear day faced with this minor problem
may rank the open cabin door as a low risk. What about
the pilot on an IFR climb out in IMC conditions with light
intermittent turbulence in rain who is receiving an amended
clearance from air traffic control (ATC)? The open cabin
door now becomes a higher risk factor. The problem has

not changed, but the perception of risk a pilot assigns it
changes because of the multitude of ongoing tasks and
the environment. Experience, discipline, awareness, and
knowledge will influence how a pilot ranks a problem.

Choose (a Course of Action)
After the problem has been identified and its impact
estimated, the pilot must determine the desirable outcome
and choose a course of action. In the case of the multiengine
pilot given the simulated failed engine, the desired objective
is to safely land the airplane.
Identify (Solutions)

The pilot formulates a plan that will take him or her to the
objective. Sometimes, there may be only one course of action
available. In the case of the engine failure, already at 500
feet or below, the pilot solves the problem by identifying
one or more solutions that lead to a successful outcome. It is
important for the pilot not to become fixated on the process
to the exclusion of making a decision.

Do (the Necessary Actions)
Once pathways to resolution are identified, the pilot selects
the most suitable one for the situation. The multiengine pilot
given the simulated failed engine must now safely land the

Evaluate (the Effect of the Action)
Finally, after implementing a solution, evaluate the decision
to see if it was correct. If the action taken does not provide
the desired results, the process may have to be repeated.

Decision-Making in a Dynamic Environment

The common approach to decision-making has been through
the use of analytical models such as 5P, 3P, OODA, and
DECIDE. Good decisions result when pilots gather all
available information, review it, analyze the options, rate the
options, select a course of action, and evaluate that course of
action for correctness.

In some situations, there isn't always time to make decisions
based on analytical decision-making skills. A good example
is a quarterback whose actions are based upon a highly fluid
and changing situation. He intends to execute a plan, but new
circumstances dictate decision-making on the fly. This type
of decision-making is called automatic decision-making or
naturalized decision-making. [Figure 17-11B]