Core EBT Competencies: Problem Solving & Decision-Making

Evidence-Based Training (EBT) is a new training paradigm which can lead to positive outcomes for Business Aviation operators. As part of his review of core EBT competencies, Mario Pierobon considers problem solving and decision-making in the cockpit...

Mario Pierobon  |  21st December 2023
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    Pilot Safety - enhance your decision making skills

    Why are problem solving and decision-making such important core evidence-based training competencies for Business Aviation pilots? Following, aviation safety expert Mario Pierobon provides an overview…

    In a 1998 conference paper entitled ‘Errors in Aviation Decision-Making: Bad Decisions or Bad Luck?’ Judith Orasanu, Lynne Martin and Jeannie Davison of NASA-Ames Research Center illustrate an accident in which an inappropriate course of action was chosen in the face of relatively complete information about the nature of a problem.

    The accident occurred in Pinckneyville, Illinois in 1983 (Air Illinois Flight 71), and the paper quotes an interesting extract from the related National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report...

    “About two minutes into a night flight in instrument conditions, a Hawker-Siddeley commuter aircraft lost its left generator. In error, the first officer isolated the right generator and then was unable to restart it. This meant total loss of the ability to generate electrical power, needed for all instruments in the cockpit.

    “Under the best of circumstances batteries might be expected to last for 30 minutes. The captain decided to continue to the destination airport 45 minutes away, rather than diverting. Continued use of non-essential electrical equipment shortened the battery life. A complete electrical failure and subsequent loss of flight instruments critical for IFR flight led the plane to crash.”

    In their paper, Orasanu et al. consider a 1994 NTSB analysis of 37 accidents in which crew behaviour played a role.

    “The NTSB classified performance errors into nine types, including tactical decision errors. Each incident resulted in an average of seven errors”, they say. “Clearly, decision errors do not occur in isolation but are more likely to occur in a context where crew performance falls short of the ideal process in many ways.”

    Most Common Decision Errors

    The most common decision errors involved failures to perform a missed approach or failures to go-around in questionable weather or with an unstabilized approach. These two types of errors accounted for 19 of the 51 tactical decision errors identified by the NTSB.

    Many were errors in which the crew decided to continue with the original action plan when faced with signals suggesting a change of action would be required.

    In the above Hawker-Siddeley example, the tactical decision error was to continue the flight despite the lack of generators to provide electrical power, and signals that a change of plan would have been more appropriate, affirm Orasanu et al.

    Two-thirds of plan continuation errors in the NTSB database involved omissions or failure to do something that should have been done or else take some required action, note Orasanu et al. “It might appear that crews are captured by a familiar schema in ambiguous conditions, which leads them to do what they normally do – that is, to carry on with the usual plan. However, this explanation does not account for errors of commission that also contribute to plan-continuation.

    “These are cases in which crews take actions that are out of the ordinary, such as attempting to have snow blown off their aircraft by using engine exhaust from the aircraft ahead of them,” they highlight.

    Problem Solving/Decision-Making Behavioral Indicators

    A professional cockpit environment is supported by effective problem solving and decision-making.

    ICAO Doc 9995 (Manual of Evidence-Based Training) defines problem solving and decision- making as accurately identifying risks, resolving problems, and using the appropriate decision- making processes.

    Problem solving and decision-making have the following behavioural indicators:

    • Seeks accurate and adequate information from appropriate sources.
    • Identifies and verifies what things have gone wrong and why.
    • Employs proper problem solving strategies.
    • Perseveres in working through problems without reducing safety.
    • Uses appropriate and timely decision-making processes.
    • Sets priorities appropriately.
    • Identifies and considers options effectively.
    • Monitors, reviews, and adapts decisions as required.
    • Identifies and manages risks effectively.
    • Improvises when faced with unforeseeable circumstances to achieve the safest outcome.

    Best Practices in Pilot Problem Solving/Decision-Making

    FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 60-22 deals with aeronautical decision-making (ADM), which builds on the foundation of conventional decision-making but improves the process to reduce the likelihood of pilot error. This document may be referred to as part of developing an EBT program.

    “ADM provides a structured, systematic approach to analysing changes that occur during a flight, and how these changes might affect a flight's safe outcome,” the AC says.

    Developing good decision-making skills is more difficult than developing good flying skills. Successful decision-making is measured by the pilot’s consistent ability to keep themselves, the passengers, and the aircraft in a good condition, regardless of the conditions of a given flight, the AC affirms.

    The ADM process addresses all aspects of decision-making in the cockpit and identifies the steps involved in effective decision-making according to the AC. These are:

    • Identifying personal attitudes hazardous to safe flight.
    • Learning behaviour modification techniques.
    • Learning how to recognize and cope with stress.
    • Developing risk assessment skills.
    • Using all resources in a multicrew situation.
    • Evaluating the effectiveness of one’s ADM skills.

    A review of problem solving and decision-making as they apply to pilots highlights why they constitute a core competency that should be thoroughly considered, emphasised, and developed under an EBT program of a Business Aviation operator. We’ll continue looking at core EBT competencies in future articles... Stay tuned!

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