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Tactical And Operational Errors in Pilot’s Decision Making Process

Tactical And Operational Errors in Pilot’s Decision Making ProcessPilot error refers to any action or decision – or lack of proper action – made by a pilot that plays a role in an accident. This may include a simple mistake, a lapse in judgment or failure to exercise due diligence. There are two types of pilot errors according to Aviation Safety Magazine:

  1. Tactical errors, which are related to a pilot’s poor actions or decisions, often caused by fatigue, inebriation or lack of experience
  2. Operational errors, related to problems with flight instruction and training.

In fact, pilot error is the leading cause of commercial airline accidents, with close to 80% percent of accidents caused by pilot error, according to Boeing. The other 20% are mainly due to faulty equipment and unsafe, weather-related flying conditions.

Although policies put in place to reduce pilot error are not universal across the world, there are varying guidelines about how long a pilot can captain a flight, how many co-pilots should be present and how many hours a pilot can fly before taking mandatory breaks. There are also varying guidelines about how many hours of training pilots must complete, below what altitude they should not hand over control of a plane and when they should abort landings.

“Pilot judgment is the process of recognizing and analyzing all available information about oneself, the aircraft and the flying environment, followed by the rational evaluation of alternatives to implement a timely decision which maximizes safety. Pilot judgment thus involves one’s attitudes toward risk-taking and one’s ability to evaluate risks and make decisions based upon one’s knowledge, skills and experience. A judgment decision always involves a problem or choice, an unknown element, usually a time constraint, and stress. ” (Transport Canada: Judgment Training Manual).

The causal factor in about 80% to 85% of civil aviation accidents; is the human element, in other words, pilot error, a poor decision or a series of poor decisions made by the pilot-in-command. This concept is known as the poor judgment chain. One poor decision increases the probability of another and as the poor judgment chain grows, the probability of a safe flight decreases. The judgment training program teaches techniques; for breaking the chain by teaching the pilot to, recognize the combination of events that result in an accident and to deal with the situation correctly in time to prevent the accident from occurring.

How a pilot handles his or her responsibilities as a Pilot depends on attitude. Attitudes are learned. They can be developed through training into a mental framework that encourages good pilot judgment.

The pilot decision making training program is based on recognition of five, hazardous attitudes.

  1. Anti-authority. This attitude is common in those who do not like anyone telling them what to do.
  2. Resignation. Some people do not see themselves as making a great deal of difference in what happens to them and will go along with anything that happens.
  3. Impulsivity. Some people need to do something, anything, immediately without stopping to think about what is the best action to take.
  4. Invulnerability. Some people feel that accidents happen to other people but never to themselves. Pilots who think like this are more likely to take unwise risks.
  5. Macho. Some people need to always prove that they are better than anyone else and take risks to prove themselves and impress others.

Pilots who learn to recognize these hazardous attitudes in themselves can also learn how to counteract them, can learn to control their first instinctive response and can learn to make a rational judgment based on good common sense.

The DECIDE acronym was developed to assist a pilot in the decision making process.

D – detect change.
E – estimate the significance of the change.
C – choose the outcome objective.
l – identify plausible action options.
D – do the best action.
E – evaluate the progress.

Using the DECIDE process requires the pilot to contemplate the outcome of the action taken. The successful outcome should be the action that will result in no damage to the aircraft or injury to the occupants.

When a pilot receives a license to fly, he is being given the privilege to use public airspace and air navigation facilities. He is expected to adhere to the rules and to operate an aircraft safely and carefully. He is expected to use good judgment and act responsibly. Decision- making is a continuous adjustive process that starts before take-off and does not stop until after the final landing is made safely. Positive attitudes toward flying, learned judgment skills, will improve a pilot’s chances of having a long and safe flying career. Source

The I’M SAFE Checklist

Evaluating our personal airworthiness can be a difficult and demanding task. One tool to help make that assessment is the I’M SAFE checklist. Each letter represents one of six important factors affecting our ability to fly safely and engage in effective decision making. If you find yourself deficient in any of these areas, your decision-making ability may be compromised, and the no-go decision should be made.

Illness-Any form of illness can affect our ability to safely operate an aircraft. Remember that the symptoms of colds and other minor illnesses can be exacerbated by changes in pressure that result from changes in altitude. Sinus blockage caused by a head cold, for example, can result in severe vertigo. If you wouldn’t be able to pass an FAA medical exam, or if you have any condition that might alter your ability to safely operate an aircraft, the only safe choice is not to fly.

Medication-On the heels of illness is medication. Pilots are often tempted to use over-the-counter remedies to mask the effects of illnesses such as colds, but these remedies may have side effects that severely affect our judgment and decision making. If you are considering flying while taking any medication, first consult your aviation medical examiner.

Stress-Numerous forms of stress can alter our decision-making ability. Remember that the psychological stresses of work, school, family, or personal life are carried with you into the cockpit and can degrade your performance. Physical stress such as hot or cold temperature, high humidity, noise, vibration, and turbulence can take their toll on your decision-making ability. Hard work and the resulting soreness and fatigue can conspire against us as well. Stresses are also cumulative, so before you decide to fly, consider all the stresses acting upon you and the potential cumulative effect.

Alcohol-All pilots should know better than to mix alcohol with flying. The federal aviation regulations prohibit flying within eight hours of drinking alcoholic beverages, when under the influence of alcohol (or other drugs), or any time blood alcohol levels exceed .04 percent. Remember, too, that many cold remedies include alcohol as an active ingredient, so be certain not to use these before flying.

Fatigue-It’s difficult to think clearly and rationally when you’re tired. Mental abilities as well as motor coordination can be severely compromised when a pilot is tired. If you haven’t had adequate rest, don’t fly.

Eating-Nutrition is another important factor that contributes to mental processes, including decision making. If you haven’t been eating properly or drinking enough fluids, don’t expect to be a safe pilot. Your body cannot perform its best if it doesn’t have the nutrients and fluids it needs. source

Pilot Training in Florida

The programs at Aviator Flight School are designed to provide what the airline industry demands of future commercial pilots. The training you will receive at Aviator is one of the most intensive and challenging programs offered in aviation flight training today.

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Speak with Flight Instructor, call 772-672-8222.

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