Aeronautical Decision-Making: A Basic Staple

Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) is a cornerstone in managing risk. ADM provides a structured framework utilizing known processes and applying recognized pathways, which individually and collectively have a positive effect on exposure to hazards. This is not achieved by reducing the hazard itself, but by helping the pilot recognize hazards that need attention.

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. It is what a pilot intends to do based on the latest information he or she has.


The importance of learning and understanding effective ADM skills cannot be overemphasized. While progress is continually being made in the advancement of pilot training methods, aircraft equipment and systems, and services for pilots, accidents still occur. Despite all the changes in technology to improve flight safety, one factor remains the same: the human factor, which leads to errors. It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of all aviation accidents are related to human factors, and the vast majority of these accidents occur during landing (24.1 percent) and takeoff (23.4 percent). ADM helps reduce risk. To understand ADM is to understand also how personal attitudes can influence decision-making and how those attitudes can be modified to enhance safety in the flight deck. It is important to understand the factors that cause humans to make decisions and how the decision-making process not only works, but also can be improved.

This chapter focuses on helping the pilot improve his or her ADM skills with the goal of mitigating the risk factors associated with flight. Advisory Circular (AC) 60-22, Aeronautical Decision Making, provides background references, definitions, and other pertinent information about ADM training in the general aviation (GA) environment. [Figure 5-1]

Figure 5-1. Advisory Circular (AC) 60-22, Aeronautical Decision Making, carries a wealth of information for the pilot to learn.

Figure 5-1. Advisory Circular (AC) 60-22, Aeronautical Decision Making, carries a wealth of information for the pilot to learn.

History of ADM

For over 25 years, the importance of good pilot judgment, or ADM, has been recognized as critical to the safe operation of aircraft, as well as accident avoidance. Research in this area prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to produce training directed at improving the decision-making of pilots and led to current FAA regulations that require that decision-making be taught as part of the pilot training curriculum. ADM research, development, and testing culminated in 1987 with the publication of six manuals oriented to the decision-making needs of variously rated pilots. These manuals provided multifaceted materials designed to reduce the number of decision-related accidents. The effectiveness of these materials was validated in independent studies where student pilots received such training in conjunction with the standard flying curriculum. When tested, the pilots who had received ADM training made fewer in-flight errors than those who had not received ADM training. The differences were statistically significant and ranged from about 10 to 50 percent fewer judgment errors. In the operational environment, an operator flying about 400,000 hours annually demonstrated a 54 percent reduction in accident rate after using these materials for recurrency training.


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. The ADM process addresses all aspects of decision-making in the flight deck and identifies the steps involved in good decision-making.

Steps for good decision-making are:

  1. Identifying personal attitudes hazardous to safe flight.
  2. Learning behavior modification techniques.
  3. Learning how to recognize and cope with stress.
  4. Developing risk assessment skills.
  5. Using all resources.
  6. Evaluating the effectiveness of one’s ADM skills.

ADM results in helping to manage risk. When a pilot follows good decision-making practices, the inherent risk in a flight is reduced or even eliminated. The ability to make good decisions is based upon direct or indirect experience and education.

Consider automobile seat belt use. In just two decades, seat belt use has become the norm, placing those who do not wear seat belts outside the norm, but this group may learn to wear a seat belt by either direct or indirect experience. For example, a driver learns through direct experience about the value of wearing a seat belt when he or she is involved in a car accident that leads to a personal injury. An indirect learning experience occurs when a loved one is injured during a car accident because he or she failed to wear a seat belt.

While poor decision-making in everyday life does not always lead to tragedy, the margin for error in aviation is narrow. Since ADM enhances management of an aeronautical environment, all pilots should become familiar with and employ ADM.