Making good decisions

You might remember from the 2013 AvKiwi course – Get the Mental Picture, that we introduced the concept of getting some GUTs.

Get some GUTs

There are many variables that can conspire together to influence the successful outcome of any flight and hinder sound decision making. For example;

  • the compressed time-frame when travelling at speed,
  • the changeable nature of the weather,
  • the challenges of a pilot’s own currency, and
  • a homing pigeon-like instinct to return home.

These can and do undermine the decision-making process. Their combined pressure can grow with each passing minute and every drop of fuel consumed, all the while taxing the human mind.

In these situations, pilots need to be wary of complacency because it can negatively influence the decision-making process of even the most capable aviators. A common action that often leads to an accident is the determination to continue with a bad landing approach, rather than going around and setting up again.

In any stage of flight, you need to:

Gather, Understand, and Think Ahead.

As pilots, we gather information by scanning the environment, we understand information by comparing the information with our mental models, and we use those models to make decisions, take action and review.


The foundation of good decision-making lies in your ability to recognise and comprehend all the relevant information around you by looking and listening.

In order to do this you need capacity.

Capacity is a measure of how much total awareness a pilot has and their ability to absorb information while flying. The amount of total awareness you have is directly proportional to the knowledge you have acquired. This knowledge can be attained only through your work ethic, effort in learning, professionalism and your own motivation.


Once you have gathered all the information, you need to make sense of it.

Is the information you’re receiving what you expect it to be? If not, why not? Don’t just try and make the information fit your mental model.

  • Have there been any changes in the weather that you need to take notice of?
  • Are you flying the right procedure at the correct altitude?
  • Do you understand the airspace limitations?
  • Work out if or when traffic is going to be a problem.

Think Ahead

Stay ahead of the aircraft and fly proactively. It’s important to keep reviewing your information and comparing it with what you should be seeing. If your gut instinct tells you something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.

Have there been any changes in threats? Keep on the lookout for new ones. Remember, you don’t have to rely on sighting another aircraft to avoid it. Changing direction, altitude or communicating your intentions will help you to avoid conflicting traffic.

Don't forget to think back too. It is important to reflect and review your flight to make sure you learn from your mistakes and improve your flying skills. Thinking back on flights helps you to evaluate your performance and improve each time you fly.

We have a smartphone app, Graph My Flight, developed specifically for this purpose and it is available for Android and Apple devices. Just search the store for Graph My Flight.

Decision-making model

There are a lot of models we can use, and here is just one that may be useful for you.


When faced with a tough decision, you need to take positive action. You can use the DECIDE model to help you determine which action to take. If you are flying while using this model, don't forget to keep flying the aircraft.

  • Detect that a change has occurred.
  • Estimate the need to counter the change.
  • Choose a desirable outcome.
  • Identify the actions needed to control the change.
  • Do the required actions.
  • Evaluate the effect of the action.


Firstly identify if there is going to be a problem.

What went wrong? Did something unexpected occur, or did something you were expecting to happen never eventuate?

After you have identified a change in circumstances, use your insight and experience to analyse all the information available.

Be careful though, the one critical error that often gets made is the misidentification of the problem.

Fly the aircraft


Estimate your need to react.

What is the severity of the problem and how will it affect you in the short-term and long-term. Do you need to act right away?

Fly the aircraft


Now it’s time to make some tough decisions.

Once you have determined the degree of severity that the problem poses, you must choose the desired outcome you wish to arrive at.

In this stage, risk assessment and management are used to help select the outcome from the various different options. Weigh up the alternatives and determine the most suitable outcome in your circumstances.

Fly the aircraft


So you know where you want to go, but how do you get there?

Identify any actions that will lead you to the desired outcome. Sometimes, there may be only one course of action available. It is important not to become fixated on the identifying process at the expense of taking action.

Fly the aircraft


The time to take action is now.

Fly the aircraft


Finally, after taking action, evaluate the decision to see if it was correct. If you didn’t achieve the desired outcome, you will need to repeat the process.

Fly the aircraft