Acknowledgements: CAA Skyway Code 2017

Good decision making is one of the first lines of defence against risk since it allows for risks to be avoided or mitigated, rather than relying purely on skill or luck to manage them. There is a large amount of material available about aeronautical decision making and how human factors influence it; far more than can reproduced here. Fundamentally, good decision making is about assessing the risks associated with different decision making options and then acting on it appropriately.

It is important to assess the overall risks of a flight and pick up on those which need tobe considered, mitigated or eliminated. The PAVEchecklist is a thematic way of assessing this. The items listed below are just examples that might fit into the themes, so consider all possible factors around a flight:

  •      Pilot – things like currency, fitness
  •     Aircraft – airworthiness, capabilities, limitations
  •         EnVironment – weather, facilities, terrain, airspace
  •         External pressures – time pressure, delays, passengers
There are some key principles to follow and factors to consider as part of good decision making practice:

Knowledge and information:

  •      Review all the appropriate information relating to the flight such as weather, NOTAMs, the route and aerodromes. Without this you will not have the appropriate information to base your decisions on. Develop a routine that involves your chosen sources. Use a planning checklist to ensure you do not miss any.
  •       Know the regulations relevant to your flight – regulatory compliance does not guarantee safety but is an essential baseline for decision making.
  •            Know your aircraft’s capabilities, performance and limitations.
  •       Know the procedures for aerodrome operations, air traffic service and airspace relevant to your flight.
  •         Understand the characteristics of different weather systems and what the implications are for your flying.

  •         Have a realistic understanding of your skills and capabilities.
  •     Adopt a cautious attitude to decision making, always checking information and  carefully considering the different factors.
  •       Adopt a risk-based approach – identify risks such as weather or lack of currency. If you identify a number of risks on a particular flight, question whether it is sensible to proceed. Consider modifying your plans to reduce some of the risk factors.
  •       Always ask the ‘what if?’ question – for example, if the weather is worse than forecast or you are unexpectedly delayed.
  •       Take positive decisions to respond to information and manage risks – do not proceed on the basis of “waiting to see what happens” or “hoping it will be OK”.
  •      Re-evaluate situations when you have new information or when new factors emerge – do they require you to adopta different course of action? Take a balanced view of information – be wary of discounting it just because it contradicts your existing understanding of a situation.
  •     Be wary of the so called ‘hazardous attitudes’ and recognise them if they start to influence your thinking.
External influences

  •     Ensure you are fit to fly – you may not take good decisions if you are distracted, fatigued or unwell. Even being hungry or dehydrated might cause you to lose concentration.
  •     Avoid exposing yourself to pressure to complete a flight – for example, planning one such that delays due to weather or aircraft serviceability would place you in a difficult situation such as needing to return for an important work meeting.
  •      Never put yourself in a position where you would not feel able to cancel a flight or turn back after starting one.
  •     Manage the expectations of others. Explain the limitations of flying in light aircraft to passengers and why it is sometimes not safe to y due to weather or aircraft serviceability issues.
Time and capacity

  •     When making pre-flight decisions, give yourself time to review information free from distractions. Give extra time to account for things such as passengers or potential aerodrome-related delays. Do not place yourself under time pressure.
  •      Make decisions in good time. Be wary of delaying decisions such as whether to divert due to weather on the basis that you can “wait and see” what happens. You may miss the window of opportunity to ensure a safe outcome.
  •       In the air, think ahead of the aircraft so that you can anticipate what decisions will have to be made, such as what type of circuit join to conduct at your destination or whetherto ask for a transit of controlled airspace.
  •      Anticipate and control any developmentsin the flight, rather than simply react to them. For example, use time in the cruise to the next phase of flight, when you might have less mental capacity.  
  •     Be competent in the management of the aircraft and its systems. This helps decision making insofar as it relieves mental capacity to make decisions, rather than having to focus unduly on controlling the aircraft or operating its systems such as avionics.

  •      Experience should broaden your understanding of how to interpret situations. Take on more challenging flights but balance this with an appropriately cautious attitude and take advice ifyou are unsure of something.
  •    Avoid the traps of experience suchas complacency or the reinforcement of risky behaviour – do not start to believe things like ‘the weather is never as bad as forecast’ as a rationale for taking less conservative decisions.
  •       If you have a close call, for example, with bad weather or using a short runway, reflect on the fact that you may not be so lucky next time, rather than learning the lesson that such risks are acceptable.
Learn from the experiences and mistakes of others. Many GA magazines reproduce accident reports or feature articles on decision making scenarios. Maintain an interest in current thinking on GA safety issues. The CAA’s Clued up magazine (available for free on the CAA website (www.caa.co.uk) contains a wealth of information in this area. 


Tony Birth