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All pilots need three aeronautical skills to safely and competently fly an aircraft. First, they need to understand the basic stick-and-rudder skills to operate the physical plane itself. Cadets training in a pilot school are guided to work with different aircraft so that they become more aware of how each model works and what gears are included in them.

Second, pilots are trained to operate different aircraft systems. This extends beyond the physical components of the plane and includes the fuel, electrical, and other systems that help a pilot aviate, navigate, and communicate.

Lastly, and most importantly, all pilots must be trained in aeronautical decision-making (ADM). Unlike the first two skills, which can be easily observed in a test, ADM is an internal set of processes that determines how quickly a pilot thinks on their toes. Essentially, ADM is a risk management skill that influences decision-making, all towards enhancing safety in the flight deck–especially during an emergency or abnormal situation.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, here’s what ADM entails and how pilots hone this critical ability through training mechanisms like type rating courses.

The Importance of Honing ADM

The United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officially defines aeronautical decision-making as the “systematic approach to the mental process of evaluating a given set of circumstances and determining the best course of action” (FAA, AC 60-22). Applying this definition in real life means that pilots must understand the craft they are flying so that they can act quickly in the face of any perceived risk. It is worth noting that the FAA’s estimation of 80 percent of all aviation accidents is related to human factors, particularly a discrepancy found in ADM.

It’s important to note that each person has their way of thinking, and there’s no one way to assess how a pilot thinks and evaluates the situation around them. But all pilots must build their ADM during their training as the agility of a pilot when working around stress plays a direct role in the safety of the passengers on the plane.

There are many ways to hone a pilot’s ADM, but the most recommended way to do so is by completing a type rating course. Most regulatory agencies such as the FAA require their pilots to have a type rating besides their professional or student license. In the Philippines, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP) does not require pilots to have a type rating, but the pilot’s employer may still request one. All the same, it is a good idea for a pilot to consider getting a type rating to hone their ADM on aircraft like the Airbus A320.

Put simply, a certification like a type rating certifies a cadet’s or pilot’s ability to operate certain types of aircraft. Getting a type rating is one way for a pilot to develop their aeronautical decision-making skills in particular planes, as well as become more confident in their abilities to handle risk.

How Do Mechanisms Like Type Rating Programs Improve a Pilot’s ADM? 

Each type rating program differs from another, depending on the craft being trained for. Regardless, all type rating programs comprise ground school, theoretical training, and flight simulator training modules. Different flying schools may also offer additional lessons in emergency training as well as in-depth technical module lessons for the specific aircraft system.

Each type rating course takes a few months to complete. The theoretical training is completed with exams for each module, while the simulator training calls for 50 more hours after the theoretical training module. All modules cover normal day-to-day operations and non-normal situations and, depending on the craft and school, there may be other internal checks and audits in between. This is to assess and resolve any noticeable technical lack of skills or ADM discrepancies.

Agencies like the FAA have pushed heavily for all pilots to receive several type ratings so that any abnormal situation triggers memory task prompts, or muscle-memory actions that are done automatically during an emergency. The experience pilots gain during their type rating also trains them to think clearly during high-stress situations while also familiarizing them with each component of that specific aircraft. That way, memory tasks become more seamless, and the pilot is calmer and more at ease when they’re in the middle of solving critical aviation-related problems.

Type ratings also help pilots ingrain the 3-P model of ADM, built around the three prongs of “perceive,” “process,” and “perform.” For a pilot to master aeronautical decision-making, they must be able to perceive the set of circumstances of each flight, process their potential impact on flight safety, and perform the best course of action based on their assessment. Again, while not a cut-and-dry process as other extenuating factors may influence each strategy, the 3-P model of ADM is considered a good rule of thumb–and one that can be enforced when a pilot goes through the motions of training mechanisms like type ratings.

How Can Pilots Strengthen Their ADM Skills? 

Whether you aspire to be a pilot or are currently a pilot building your flight credentials, always choose to train at an accredited pilot school that has in-house ground training and simulator training. Not only will this make learning more convenient, as you do not have to travel across cities or provinces to train and receive your certification; but it also gives your instructors a more in-depth understanding of your current technical skills.

Most importantly, you should consider training in a flight school that puts a premium on ADM in all their lessons. While it is important to master technical flying skills and learn the various systems that constitute different aircraft, a great pilot must be able to wield the ability to remain calm in any situation, assess risks with a clear head, and make good decisions when passengers’ and crews’ safety is entrusted to them.