Pilots encounter situations on a daily basis, from the moment they get into the Crew Room. Pilots have to come up with solutions to problems in all phases of work starting from the briefing room, which includes a discussion of items such as aircraft status, weather, NOTAMs, fuel requirements, etc.
Airline Pilots train for multiple eventualities constantly assessed on Technical and Non-Technical skills, which cover a wide range of competencies. In the air, decisions of weather avoidance, flight levels, what Mach number to fly in case of catching up with a delay, all routine tasks which a Pilot must do safely, etc. Prior to landing, Pilots have “gates” to plan descent, discuss various mitigation strategies for threats such as terrain or weather in the arrival phase as well as talk about the configuration of the aircraft. In busy airspace, Pilots have to work out the Holding Fuel remaining decision to commit or to divert to the alternate as well as the decision to abort or continue landing at various stages of the final approach meeting various criteria to complete a safe landing! In short, Decision Making is very, very important based on solid Situational Awareness and a Mental Model.
However, how do Pilots make decisions when things go wrong? Pilots use a systematic approach when dealing with failures or abnormal scenarios. There are various different models Pilots use such as FORDEC, T-DODAR, or DECIDE Model to name a few! We will cover T-DODAR Model, which is widely accepted, and the one, which you can break down and keep simple to make a decision to achieve a safe outcome for your aircraft and passengers. If for example, a failure occurs in flight, Pilots will have to follow a strict mental methodology than to jump to conclusions and start getting into action.
Before any decision-making process starts, it is important to have control of the situation.
The three important elements which need to be covered are as follows
FLY/AVIATE – Determine the level of automation available or automation loss. Check Pitch/Power!
NAVIGATE – Check if in NAV/HDG, check if any Engine Out Procedure must be executed
COMMUNICATE – Ask yourself “Do I need to let anyone know at the moment” – ATC for example
Only once you are in positive control of the airplane and have maintained/regained a stable attitude and figured out where you need to point you then enter the Decision Making Process.
T – TIME: “How much time do I have to make this decision?”
To understand how much time is realistically available, Pilots use information such as Fuel on Board, is the aircraft is on Fire, is there a loss of pressure, is it a single or a complex failure. Understanding a clear mental picture enables a Pilot to come up with a realistic timeframe to make a decision. If time is critical, you can do a SHORT T-DODAR, to cover the scenario after getting airborne. You can think ahead, and pre discuss on the departure briefing stage!
D – DIAGNOSE: “How is this going to impact the flight?”
To understand what has really gone wrong Pilots must use all available resources to precisely work out what the problem is. We can ask questions like “how are we going to land?” This will lead to a discussion on the limitation of Landing Distance Available versus required or aircraft category downgrade – CAT III to CAT I. This will require focus on finding an airport, which has good weather to get in! Not only understanding what has gone wrong but also having an idea of how it will have an impact further down the line will help better Decision Making.
O – OPTIONS: “Where can I go which has the least Risk”
In an emergency, a perfect option may not fit the ideal world! However, a proper Risk Assessment of the options based on Diagnosis will allow a crewmember to pick the safest option. Consider as many options as you can, obtain weather and work out the performance. It is important to consider suggestions from fellow crewmember, discuss PROs and CONs of each option and constantly think ahead on the “What if” scenario. State the selected option! Consider medical, fire cover, engineering cover, and handling to select a suitable airport.
D – DECIDE: “Do we both agree on this option?”
Ensure that both crewmembers agree and any ambiguity is resolved, ask yourself if this option is the safest one out of all. Has this option thoroughly risk assessed in the given timeframe and do have we covered “What if” scenarios.
A – ASSIGN: “Who’s going to do what?”
This might be the moment where handover of controls can happen, Pilot Flying focuses on the flight path management, setting up the approach and preparing for a brief, and inform ATC about the intention. Pilot Monitoring will continue to monitor, invite Cabin Crew for NITS Brief, send an ACARS to the airline for them to prepare in advance, and make a passenger announcement. After this task completion, the crew can come back together and conduct a brief to share their mental model and discuss “how” they are going to execute their plan and prepare for the “What if” scenario in case Plan A doesn’t go as hoped.
R – REVIEW: “Any reason why we shouldn’t go there?”
This is probably the most important part! Make time to actively look for threats, revisit the overall picture, and consider any new factors, which could affect the decision-making process, and make changes if required!
Founded in 2021, for pilots by pilots.
Faguni Saxena (DGCA & FAA Commercial Pilot)
Dipeet Mehta (UK, EASA Airline Pilot)
Please note all information is based on practical experience and procedures with regulations valid at that time. Always check for the most updated information directly with the supplier, regulator, and other means. We hope you enjoy our website!