Decision Making

Decision making is the generation of an alternative course of action based on available information, knowledge, prior experience, expectation, context, goals, etc. and selecting one preferred option. It is also described as thinking, problem solving and judgement.


There are two parts to decision making; the rational element and the behavioural element. When examining the processes followed when making a decision, we are examining the rational element. The behavioural element, on the other hand, relates to judgement style, risk assessment and concern for systems. Both elements are important.

Sometimes the final decision might be to do nothing about the problem. Other times, we may decide to act immediately and in a very specific manner.

Humans are not usually aware of the actual process or of the information that is used during their decision making. However, having an awareness of the processes can help pilots to make better decisions. As humans, the ability to process information is limited. There are however tools that can assist us in our decision making such as check lists, SOP’s and QRHs.

The CRM program uses the “IGST trip” model in flight crew training. Other models do exist and could be used in the future. “IGST trip” is a good model because it also contains judgment related elements (the ’trip’ portion). The rational element; which is the actual decision making process also coincides with the toolbox skills.

Identify: Identify the problem

Generate: Defining Options

Select: Selecting Options

Test: Establish Limits, Contingency Planning, Plan Stated, Technical Knowledge

Using the “IGST trip” model, we assess time and risk using both information and perspective. We explore whether we have most or all of the information available and we explore who’s perception we are using. If we are using only one person’s perspective on a particular problem then we may be missing some good and valuable input.

Technical Knowledge is a tool that serves two purposes in decision making process. It helps to identify the problem as well as generate possible options and choices.

Decision making is also closely linked to Situational Awareness. Establishing limits, contingency planning and Plan stated are as essential to a crew’s situational awareness as they are to Decision Making itself. These tools ensure that all crew members know which course of action have been chosen, possible alternatives to that choice, and in what conditions the alternate choice would be used.

The Behavioural Element  

Decision making is tinted with personal judgment styles. Given the same information and in similar circumstances, two individuals might choose different courses of action. Judgment style is an important part of our decision making process. Past experiences, knowledge, culture and personality type all play a part in making our perceptions and judgment styles different from other individuals. In aviation related decision making contexts, concern for SOP’s and processes and flexibility towards these procedures are what define judgment styles. One can move from one type of judgement style depending on stress level and fatigue.

The general judgement styles are: Purposeful (Systematic, Gauging), Traditional (Procedural, Technocratic), Adventurer (Opportunistic, Speculative) and Crises (Fixated, Impulsive).

List of Sub Skills

Identifying Problem: The ability to collect the information needed to define a problem and its causal factors. 

Technical Knowledge: Understanding of the aircraft systems and limits, SOP’s and regulations at the required level. 

Defining/Selecting Options: Defining options refers to the ability of a crew member to generate multiple responses to a problem and, utilizing all available resources appropriate to the conditions. To entertain optional courses of action. 

Establishing Limits: Assess time available bases on conditions to establish limits. Communicate and confirm understanding of limits to other crew members. 

Contingency Planning: Proactive thinking. Consistently anticipate operational requirements and allow for any changes or new development. 

Plan Stated: Communicate and confirm agreement and understanding of plan. Plans are shared with crew, company and others as appropriate. 


 Example of good practices 

  • All factors and resources taken into consideration.
  • Considered all options and choose the best possible solution. 
  • Adapted to changes that effected flight status. 
  • Reviewed assumptions and decisions before selecting course of action 
  • Communicated plans to other crew members 
  • Established and communicated plan limits 
  • Provided direction in case original plan failed 

 Red Flags 

  • Problem not correctly identified 
  • Decision/ plan not acceptable 
  • Critical factors not considered 
  • Risks are not assessed 
  • Crew misjudges time available or required 
  • Crew member input is not permitted 
  • There is an unwillingness to participate 
  • Unilateral decision-making 
  • Crew members do not challenge

All of this information on pilot training and flight training in Canada is also available at