Updated: Feb 9

Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) Lesson by wifiCFI

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Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM)

Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) is a cornerstone in managing risk. 

ADM is a systematic approach to the mental process used by pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances.

Contrary to popular belief, good judgment can be taught. 

Tradition held that good judgment was a natural by-product of experience, and as pilots continued to log accident-free flight hours, a corresponding increase of good judgment was assumed. 

Building upon the foundation of conventional decision-making, ADM enhances the process to decrease the probability of human error and increase the probability of a safe flight. 

ADM provides a structured, systematic approach to analyzing changes that occur during a flight and how these changes might affect a flight’s safe outcome. 

Analytical Decision Making

Analytical decision-making is a form of decision-making that takes both time and evaluation of options. 

A form of this type of decision-making is based upon the acronym “DECIDE.” 

It provides a six-step process for the pilot to logically make good aeronautical decisions.

The DECIDE Model D = Detect a change or hazard.

E = Estimate the need to react to the change.

C = Choose a desirable outcome.

I = Identify actions that can successfully control the change.

D = “Do.” Take the necessary action.

E = Evaluate the effect of the action.

Automatic Decision Making

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

Operational pitfalls are traps that pilots fall into, avoidance of which is actually simple in nature. 

A pilot should always have an alternate flight plan for where to land in case of an emergency on every flight.

Weather is the largest single cause of aviation fatalities. 

Operational Pitfall Examples

Scud Running:

Scud running, or continued VFR flight into instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions, pushes the pilot and aircraft capabilities to the limit when the pilot tries to make visual contact with the terrain. This is one of the most dangerous things a pilot can do and illustrates how poor ADM links directly to a human factor that leads to an accident.

Get-There-It is:

In get-there-itis, personal or external pressure clouds the vision and impairs judgment by causing a fixation on the original goal or destination combined with a total disregard for alternative course of action. 

Continuing VFR into IMC:

Continuing VFR into IMC often leads to spatial disorientation or collision with ground/obstacles. It is even more dangerous when the pilot is not instrument rated or current. Weather-related accidents, particularly those associated with VFR flight into IMC, continue to be a threat to GA safety because 80 percent of the VFR-IMC accidents resulted in a fatality.

Loss of Situational Awareness:

Situational awareness is the accurate perception and understanding of all the factors and conditions within the four fundamental risk elements (pilot, aircraft, environment, and type of operation) that affect safety before, during, and after the flight. Thus, loss of situational awareness results in a pilot not knowing where he or she is, an inability to recognize deteriorating circumstances, and the misjudgment of the rate of deterioration.

Flying Outside the Envelope:

Flying outside the envelope is an unjustified reliance on the mistaken belief that the airplane’s high performance capability meets the demands imposed by the pilot’s (usually overestimated) flying skills. While it can occur in any type aircraft, advanced avionics aircraft have contributed to an increase in this type accident.

The 3P Model

Making a risk assessment is important, but in order to make any assessment the pilot must be able to see and sense surroundings and process what is seen before performing a corrective action. An excellent process to use in this scenario is called the 3 Ps: 

Perceive = the given set of circumstances for a flight.

Process = by evaluating their impact on flight safety.

Perform = by implementing the best course of action.

Conclusion The study of ADM, its history, and models for decision making while in flight is only a precursor to its practical application. 

Regurgitating the meaning of the concepts allows a pilot to pass a checkride and written examination, but understanding is what saves lives and improves flight skills. 

Therefore, one can say that understanding these concepts is superior to being able to state them in a precise order or with absolute accuracy.

FAA Sources Used in this Lesson

Risk Management Handbook - Chapter 5

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