Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness relates to one’s ability to accurately perceive what’s inside the cockpit and outside of the aircraft. It is also one’s ability to comprehend the meaning of different elements in the environment and the projection of their status in the near future.



It further extends to the planning of several solutions for any given emergency situation which could occur in the immediate future. Maintaining a state of awareness of one’s situation is a complex process, greatly motivated by the understanding that one’s perception of reality sometimes differs from reality itself. This awareness promotes ongoing questioning, cross-checking, and a refinement of one’s perception. Constant, conscious monitoring of the situation is required. It is important to note that the situation referred to here includes the human environment. The evaluation of oneself and others for partial or total incapacitation is vital, but often overlooked.


SA Theory 

The basic theory of SA is that of cognitive psychology, in particular, attention, perception, information processing, memory and decision making.

A pilot needs a lot of information to build his/her own representation of the situation. Researcher Mica Endlessly talks about 4 types of SA; Geographical, Spatial/Temporal, System and Environmental. It has also been suggested to including people SA to the above list. This would work well within this program as well. We currently use the Toolbox skill called Shared Mental Model which can act as a replacement for such a concept.

Mica Endlessly has categorized SA into three levels: perception, comprehension and projection. The more experienced and skilled a pilot is, the better his SA at all three levels tends to be. Skilled and experienced pilots may make errors at the level 2 stage, in that they may perceive the correct information but draw an incorrect conclusion based on a previous experience of a similar event.

As discussed above, information processing has a lot to do with our Situational Awareness. Human beings have a limited information processing capability and cannot attend to all sources of information all the time. It is necessary to switch attention from one source to another, often in fairly rapid succession, and to store the information in memory.

List of sub skills 

Monitor/Crosscheck: Active monitoring of all instruments, communications and other crew members’ tasks, relaying relevant information to the rest of the crew. 

Vigilance: Asking for and responding to new information, preparing in advance for required activities. Staying “ahead of the curve” for any potential problems. 

Shared Mental Model: All involved parties operating under the same assumptions or from the same plan. 

System Management: Awareness, monitoring and report of automated systems or aircraft systems status or changes of status. Adequate programming, acknowledgement and verification of entries and correct use of automation. 

Example of good practices 

  • Always ahead of the situation. 
  • Accurate and timely perception of factors affecting the flight and crew during a specific period of time and how it would affect operations. 
  • All resources and tools used to maintain a high level of SA. 
  • Identify the impact of a problem or malfunction on flight status. 
  • Always backed up other crew members. 
  • Provide and accept constructive feedback. 

Red Flags 

  • Consistently behind the airplane 
  • Without prompting, factors and conditions affecting the aircraft and crew (present/future) are not considered 
  • Both pilots are heads down during critical phase 
  • Rules and/ or limitations violated 
  • Statements like: Something doesn’t feel right, Where are we?, What’s it doing?, Are you sure?, What did he say?, Where is that? 
  • No response to challenges and or verbal calls 
  • Changes are not discussed or analyzed 
  • Items on checklists are missed 
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