Decision Making Model

Decision Making Model

This is a practical Model often used in aviation for decision making. A standard mnemonic is used - S A F E - to assist the recall of the steps for effective decision-making.

SAFE means:

S - State the problem;
A - Analyse the options;
F - Fix the problem;
E - Evaluate the result.

The Decision Making Model is a tool that gives structure to the decision-making process. Faulty decisions can result if one of these measures was not applied correctly. Therefore, all flight crew members should be involved in the decision making process when ab-normal situations arise.


Another decision making model popularized by Tony Kern is the GRADE model. GRADE means:

G - Gather all information through the means you have, ask questions, take notes, what information is available to you, can you get more.
R - Review the information you have gathered. Discard what is irrelevant, organize the information into groups and prioritize the information.
A - Analyze the information. Compare, contrast, what is the significance of the information, so what test. Come up with courses action. Mitigate any risk.
D - Decide on a course of action.
E - Evaluate the course of action. Is it working, do you need to come up with another course of action.


Used by some airlines is another decision making model referred to as the FATE model. It is designed to follow a continuous loop that will help crews manage abnormal events and achieve a safe outcome.

F Fly the plane. Whilst dealing with a problem, it is vitally important that a crew member is designated as the person responsible for flying the aircraft. This person may still assist in managing the problem at hand but is primarily concerned with maintaining the aircraft in a safe state i.e. sufficient terrain clearance, complying with Air Traffic Control instructions and maintaining situational awareness of the aircrafts position. Several accidents have occurred over the years where the entire crew became so distracted with the problem at hand, a lack of attention was paid to the basic task of flying the aircraft (for an example see Ansett Flight 703).

A Analyse the problem. The appropriate crew member can now examine what has actually happened. What is the presentation of the problem? What systems have been affected? What common item might link those systems? What impact will the problem have on continued flight? Has either crew member seen such a problem before? This will then lead into a discussion between the crew of what needs to happen, where should the aircraft head, who should we talk to and any other number of possibilities depending on a given situation.

T Take action. Having analysed the issue and discussed possible options, the crew will now implement the option they consider to be the most appropriate. This could mean shutting down a system, diverting to another airport or a number of other things. Again, the action taken depends entirely on the given situation.

E Evaluate. The crew can now examine if their course of action has resolved the issue or if they still believe they have taken the most appropriate course of action. Has the decision taken now resulted in other systems being affected? This can then lead back to F (Fly) and the model can be run again to deal with any other issues that may now have arisen or whether the circumstances of the original problem has now changed.


Although it doesn't quite run off the tongue like some other mnemonics, ADFP can still be used by pilots in challenging circumstances to help with problem solving. More so than some other models, it is perhaps more of a checklist to ensure all relevant factors have been considered.

A Aircraft. Consider the problem that has occurred and the affect it has had on the aircraft. What systems have been compromised? What will the downstream affect be? Will abnormal/emergency actions be required? Many questions may exist depending on the situation and in a multicrew environment; this may lead to a discussion concerning the best course of action.

D Destination. Is the destination the aircraft is heading to the most appropriate place to land? Is the situation the type where you should land as soon as possible? What emergency services are needed/present at that aerodrome? To a lesser degree but still relevant, do suitable facilities exist for the passengers? Are engineering services present? What will the flow on effect be for the company? A diligent crew are considering all of these and more and will make decisions based on the information at hand.

F Fuel. Do you have sufficient fuel to get to your destination? How much spare fuel do you have to hold if needed? How long for? Are we overweight for landing? Do we need to burn off fuel? Ensuring you have not over looked the obvious will keep the aircraft and those onboard safe.

P People. Have we spoken to and informed everyone who needs to be informed? Passengers, Air Traffic Control, the Company agents? Who you speak to again depends entirely on the situation at hand. In some situations, plenty of time exists to talk to many different parties. In other times, communication with those parties would be more suited to when the aircraft is safely on the ground. Again, an experienced crew knows what is appropriate and when and will act accordingly.

As can be seen, this model is designed to ensure the crew has considered the problem at hand and asked themselves the right questions. Questioning the situation and one's actions can help ensure the final answer you have arrived at is the correct one.

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