U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


May 2004 




Thought for the month..... You know when you've hit on the wrong answer - it hits back!

Three P's to ADů. The current model for aeronautical decision-making used by the FAA is the result of continuing research in cognitive science on how we humans make decisions. The previous acronym, D.E.C.I.D.E. was accurate, but too unrealistic and lengthy to be effective. It's really tough trying to sell people on the idea of incorporating a decision making process when you're asking them to memorize six steps, most of which we do intuitively any way. However, it is important to have a model because the accident rate has flattened-out over the last ten years and the only way we are going to get any lower is to deal with the way we accept risks and make decisions.

One of the reasons we haven't had a lot of influence on how people in aviation make decisions is that we have always presented the information in a way that seems to indicate that decision makers must be equipped with great knowledge and have plenty of time to make decisions. We know that in the real world we don't have the time to collect all available information and evaluate it to determine the best outcome of a situation. Current thinking in the field of human cognition suggests that it is much more effective to replace the image of the all-knowing mind with unlimited time, with that of a mind limited by other commitments, working under time constraints, using a toolbox filled with fast but effective rules-of-thumb. Real decision makers have only a finite amount of time, knowledge, and attention to spend on a particular decision.

"Satisficing" is a term which has come to describe how we make some decisions. In simple terms, it means we will accept the first alternative that seems to satisfy our need. If the first alternative a shop foreman finds to relieve a backlog is to have employees work overtime, the process may stop there. The consequences of the decision have not been thoroughly thought out but the decision maker has determined that this will accomplish the task and any subsequent problems can be "satisficed" and resolved, particularly if this option has yielded a positive outcome in the past.

A VFR-only pilot encountering unforecast weather may make a satisficing decision to climb over the clouds. The decision could be based on the availability of GPS equipment, the perceived need to get to the destination, and whether the pilot has done it successfully before. If it's a first-time encounter, the pilot might only accept a very localized condition that can be easily traversed. If he or she has been successful at this behavior previously, they may decide to accept the flight knowing the weather is there before they depart.

Behavioral scientists call it, "bounded reality" and it hinges on decisions that are made on bits of well chosen information. We accept "satisficing" as a means of making decisions because in most cases we are being asked to combine information from different cues and convert it into a common denominator, and doesn't always fit. If I put everyone on ten-hour days, how much more time and money will it take to correct mistakes that might be made as a result of fatigue? Should I fly above the clouds if there is only a 100 foot ceiling below the clouds? The delemma in decision-making is not that we make the wrong decision to begin with, but rather that we shut down the decision making process once we initiate a course of action. To address the real way we make decisions, the FAA now advocates the Three P method. The Three P's of aeronautical decision making are: Perceive, Process, and Perform.

"Perceive" is the natural function of our five senses. Training our senses to acquire important aeronautical information is critical. The average person could certainly walk up to an uncowled aircraft engine and perceive what it is. A trained maintenance technition would immediately see a safety wire twisted incorrectly. I once watched Mr. Bob Depperman from the Heartland Chapter, ground his aircraft during the MPA Air Tour because of something he heard. I couldn't hear it, but his trained ear did, so he discontinued his flight, had it checked out and found out the starter was not disengaging after engine start.

The "Process" refers to the controls we put in-place, what we do with the information we perceive. This is where "satisficing" happens. Mr. Depperman's first best alternative was - Don't know? Don't go! We may not have the time or inclination to consider all alternatives. I don't have the experience and intelligence to forsee all the possible outcomes when my opponent moves a chess piece. The move I make will satisfice the situation. The consequences of losing a chess game at my level are nothing compared to the potential consequences of repairing or operating an aircraft so the process employed should be commensurate with the risk.

"Perform" means actually implementing the controls. If not going is the first best alternative, then discontinuing the flight is the action that should be taken. Perform is immediately followed by Perceive, this time in the form of an evaluation. If new information comes to light or I perceive that there has been a change, new controls may be necessary. The Three P's are a continuing cycle and, while they might seem to be a normal function, thought, training, and practice are necessary to be applied to aeronautical decisions.

Upcoming Events

May 13
Maryland Heights Centre
2344 McKelvey Rd
Maryland Heights, MO 63034
Working CFI Seminar
8:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M.

Jun 5
Southwest Illinois College (SWIC)
2500 Carlyle Ave
Belleville, IL 62221
The Successful Cross Country
9:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.

June 9 & 10
Embassy Suites Hotel
11237 Lone Eagle Dr
Bridgeton, MO 63044
Recurrent Pilot Examiner Standardization Seminar.

June 26
Skyline Aeronautics
Spirit of St. Louis Airport
Aeronautical Decision Making
9 to 11 A.M.

Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835