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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




Automatic Decision-Making
In an emergency situation, a pilot might not survive if he or
she rigorously applied analytical models to every decision
made; there is not enough time to go through all the options.
But under these circumstances does he or she find the best
possible solution to every problem?

For the past several decades, research into how people
actually make decisions has revealed that when pressed for
time, experts faced with a task loaded with uncertainty, first
assess whether the situation strikes them as familiar. Rather
than comparing the pros and cons of different approaches,
they quickly imagine how one or a few possible courses of
action in such situations will play out. Experts take the first
workable option they can find While it may not be the best of
all possible choices, it often yields remarkably good results.

The terms naturalistic and automatic decision-making have
been coined to describe this type of decision-making. The
ability to make automatic decisions holds true for a range
of experts from fire fighters to chess players. It appears the
expert's ability hinges on the recognition of patterns and
consistencies that clarify options in complex situations.
Experts appear to make provisional sense of a situation,
without actually reaching a decision, by launching experience
based actions that in turn trigger creative revisions.

This is a reflexive type of decision-making anchored in
training and experience and is most often used in times of
emergencies when there is no time to practice analytical
decision-making. Naturalistic or automatic decision-making
improves with training and experience, and a pilot will find
himself or herself using a combination of decision-making
tools that correlate with individual experience and training.

Operational Pitfalls
Although more experienced pilots are likely to make more
automatic decisions, there are tendencies or operational
pitfalls that come with the development of pilot experience.
These are classic behavioral traps into which pilots have
been known to fall. More experienced pilots (as a rule) try
to complete a fight as planned, please passengers, and meet
schedules. The desire to meet these goals can have an adverse
effect on safety and contribute to an unrealistic assessment
of piloting skills. All experienced pilots have fallen prey to,
or have been tempted by, one or more of these tendencies in
their flying careers. These dangerous tendencies or behavior
patterns, which must be identified and eliminated, include
the operational pitfalls shown in Figure 17-12.

Stress Management
Everyone is stressed to some degree almost all of the time. A
certain amount of stress is good since it keeps a person alert

and prevents complacency. Effects of stress are cumulative
and, if the pilot does not cope with them in an appropriate
way, they can eventually add up to an intolerable burden.
Performance generally increases with the onset of stress,
peaks, and then begins to fall off rapidly as stress levels
exceed a person's ability to cope. The ability to make
effective decisions during fight can be impaired by stress.
There are two categories of stress—acute and chronic. These
are both explained in Chapter 16, Aeromedical Factors.

Factors referred to as stressors can increase a pilot's risk of
error in the fight deck. [Figure 17-13] Remember the cabin
door that suddenly opened in fight on the Mooney climbing
through 1,500 feet on a clear sunny day? It may startle the
pilot, but the stress would wane when it became apparent
the situation was not a serious hazard. Yet, if the cabin door
opened in IMC conditions, the stress level makes significant
impact on the pilot's ability to cope with simple tasks. The
key to stress management is to stop, think, and analyze before
jumping to a conclusion. There is usually time to think before
drawing unnecessary conclusions.

There are several techniques to help manage the accumulation
of life stresses and prevent stress overload. For example, to
help reduce stress levels, set aside time for relaxation each
day or maintain a program of physical fitness. To prevent
stress overload, learn to manage time more effectively to
avoid pressures imposed by getting behind schedule and not
meeting deadlines.

Use of Resources
To make informed decisions during fight operations, a pilot
must also become aware of the resources found inside and
outside the fight deck. Since useful tools and sources of
information may not always be readily apparent, learning
to recognize these resources is an essential part of ADM
training. Resources must not only be identified, but a pilot
must also develop the skills to evaluate whether there is
time to use a particular resource and the impact its use will
have upon the safety of fight For example, the assistance
of ATC may be very useful if a pilot becomes lost, but in
an emergency situation, there may be no time available to
contact ATC.

Internal Resources
One of the most under utilized resources may be the person in
the right seat, even if the passenger has no flying experience.
When appropriate, the PIC can ask passengers to assist with
certain tasks, such as watching for traffic or reading checklist
items. Some other ways a passenger can assist:
• Provide information in an irregular situation, especially
if familiar with flying A strange smell or sound may
alert a passenger to a potential problem.