Aeronautical Decision Making

Introduction to ADM1

ADM can be best described as an enhanced decision making process that is used in aviation by pilots to help them consistently make the best choices when they are faced with alternatives leading to uncertain outcomes (AC No: 60-221).
As with any good decision making process, ADM is about avoiding the circumstances that lead to bad choices. This is achieved by making the decision maker aware of the factors that can contribute to bad decisions, how their impact on safety can be managed, as well as the steps that are involved in making good decisions. In other words, ADM is able to be taught to pilots.

Teaching ADM

The objectives in teaching ADM are to provide the pilot with a set of skills and techniques that they can use to:

1. Identify and manage factors that have a negative influence on their decision making

The factors that influence decision making are:

a) Personal attitudes that are hazardous to safety flight

A pilot’s attitude is what determines how they will behave in most situations. The attitude that “the flight must be completed” is likely to result in behaviours’ that lead to bad decisions. This type of attitude is likely to drive decisions such as, pressing on into hazardous weather, or continuing a flight with critical equipment failures. Although the safe decision would be to abort a flight, the pilot’s attitude has influenced the ability to make safe decisions.

b) Physical and psychological conditions

Physical and psychological factors influence the performance of the pilot. Illness, lack of sleep, alcohol and medications are some of the factors that impact on a pilot’s ability to make good decisions. Other factors, such as stress, can be present both before, and develop during a flight. These factors can impact on the “decision making process” by reducing alertness, situational awareness or motivation, essential components in good decision making. i.e. failure to detect a problem or error

How a Pilot manages these factors.

a) Personal attitudes that are hazardous to safety flight

The pilot must learn to recognize these attitudes, and during any decision making process it is essential that they ensure their choices are not influenced by such attitudes. Pilots are taught behavioral modification techniques where they learn to substitute hazardous attitudes for positive alternatives and apply these to their decision making.

b) Physical and psychological conditions

Again, pilots must learn to recognize these conditions and ensure that their influence is safely managed. The broadest approach to recognizing these conditions is a form of self interrogation by the pilot. They need to ask the question, am I fit to fly? This can include lifestyle aspects such as getting adequate sleep, keeping physically fit and knowing their personal limitations.
Stress is a factor that can also appear during a flight so it is essential that a pilot be adequately equipped to cope with it effectively. Pilots use various workload management techniques such as checklists, automation and task sharing to control stress in the cockpit.

2. Take a structured approach when making decisions

The approach pilots take in making decisions:

a) Detect- detection for changes
b) Estimate-estimate the need for counter measures or react to the change
c) Choose-chooses a desirable outcome
d) Identify-identification of actions which will successfully control the change
e) Do-implement the necessary actions
f) Evaluate-evaluates the effect of action countering the change

During decision making, there are two significant components that guide the process:

Motivation – Provides the correct attitude and behaviours’. i.e. vigilance and compliance with safe practices.

Expertise – Helps the pilot identify changes; determine if they require action and the best course of action to take. It also provides the necessary skill to implement, to experience to evaluate and knowledge monitor any actions taken. Expertise is a critical component in identifying how to best allocate recourses during the decision making process and essential in maintaining a complete understanding of the situation and its consequences. (Situational Awareness)

1. FAA (1991). Advisory Circular : Aeronautical Decision Making. AC No: 60-22, Retrieved on the 24th September, 2009 from

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