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My 2 Cents Worth (December 2013)

Randy Mains

Six years after his historic flight, Orville Wright lost a friend in an aircraft accident.  He lamented, “What is needed is better judgment, rather than better skill.” 

    It’s been proven, whether flying single pilot or multi-crew, that faulty decision-making has caused far more aviation accidents than poor flying ability. 

    An element of crew resource management (CRM) examines nine hazardous attitudes and behaviors that can impede good judgement and decision-making. By identifying these behaviors and applying the anecdote to counteract them, you can break a vital link in the error chain and avoid having an incident or accident.

    Even the most experienced and capable pilot is susceptible to these attitudes in on form or another; we’re all human.  Being aware of their existence will help you recognize and avoid them, or at least mitigate them.  The nine hazardous attitudes are:

1. Anti-authority

    “Don't tell me what to do."  Such a person often considers rules and regulations unnecessary. 

The antidote: Follow the rules.  They have been developed with the benefit of years of experience from others.

2. The Impulsive attitude

     "Do something fast!”  This is seen in people who feel the need to do something hastily.  They do not stop to think.  They may say, “Let’s brief quickly and get going before the weather gets too bad.”  These people jump to conclusions and solutions.  Beware of choosing a mental model of the situation that seems close enough to what you’re experiencing, then bending the facts to fit your model. 

The antidote: Step back, slow down and give it some thought.

3. Invulnerability, Complacency, Denial.

    "It can't happen to me."  This pilot feels that accidents only happen to others.  Pilots who feel invulnerable, are complacent, or are in denial of a dangerous situation developing, are more likely to take unwise risks. 

    Who said this?  “When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say uneventful.  Of course there have been winter gales and storms and fog and the like.  But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident, of any sort, worth speaking about.  I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea.  I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.” 

    Edward J Smith, Captain of RMS Titanic, spoke these words just days before an iceberg sank his ship. 

The antidote: Make no mistake, it could happen to you.

4. Macho "Can Do" Attitude

    This is risk-taking to prove oneself or to impress others.  It’s being afraid to voice and share uncertainty or admit overload. 

The antidote: Don’t take unnecessary risks.  Doing so impresses no one and is dangerous.

5. Resignation

    "What's the use? Nothing I do makes any difference."  This attitude relies on luck for good or bad outcomes.  Such a pilot can adopt a “someone is out to get me” attitude if there’s a bad outcome.

The antidote: Remind yourself that it isn’t what luck does to you that matters; it’s what you do in spite of what “luck” comes your way. 

6. Not Willing to Challenge ‘Experts’ 

    The antidote: “If in doubt, speak up!”  Remember the past has proved that even the most highly regarded, experienced, professional pilots make mistakes.

7. Press-on-itis   

    Most pilots are familiar with this disease.  It is a very powerful force that has killed many pilots.  It is the overriding need to reach the destination at any cost.  It blocks situational awareness and good decision-making. 

The antidote:  Remember the phrase, “Better late than never”!

8. Risky Shift

    This is the concept that groups can make riskier decisions than an individual.  Decision-making by a group, over a range of decisions, tends to be of a higher quality than decisions reached by an individual, giving rise to the concept of synergy (1+1=3).  However, research has shown that groups can make riskier decisions than an individual would make on their own.  For example, a group of kids are more likely than a lone child to climb over a fence to steal apples, or knock on a neighbor’s door and run away.  By being part of a group, you dilute both the responsibility and guilt associated with making a high-risk decision. 

The antidote: The first step is to be aware that this group dynamic exists.

9. Anchoring Bias

    A decision based on an initial parameter, perhaps drawn from memory or experience.  For example, put your hand in a bucket of cold water for five minutes, and then put it in lukewarm water. By comparison, it feels hot.  Or, a crosswind has been 40kts for the past week and today it’s 30kts, so you feel it to be a much better situation than it actually is. 

The antidote: While the past may be relevant, the environment may offer other pertinent clues to the future.  Illuminating potential anchoring biases enables a decision maker to reconsider what information they’re evaluating.

    In summary, clear decision-making is a structured process, especially when faced with an unusual situation.  Don’t assume you don’t have enough time to consider the problem.  It’s been proven that time spent on diagnosis is time well spent.  Remember that consultation is not a sign of weakness.  Use your resources and consult other crewmembers, ATC, maintenance, etc.  Also remember that changing a decision is not indecision. 

You are now aware of the nine hazardous attitudes.  If you ever feel you are falling into one – or more – of them, apply the anecdote(s).  You’ll break a link in the error chain and avoid the possibility of having an incident or accident.
Safe flying!
 

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