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critical thinking an introduction to situational awareness and decision making

Critical ThinkingAn Introduction to Situational Awarenessand Decision Making

Thinking about thinking

This presentation provides an overview of how to improve critical thinking. It is intended to enhance the reader's awareness but it shall not supersede the applicable regulations or airline's operational documentation; should any deviation appear between this presentation and the airline’s AFM / (M)MEL / FCOM / QRH / FCTM, the latter shall prevail at all times.



This self-study guide provides advice on how to improve your thinking and introduces the associated aspects of situational awareness and decision making. These subjects are essential processes in threat and error management, which must be used in daily operations. Thinking is the core skill in these activities; critical thinking involves controlling our thinking; thinking about our own thinking.

The guide is in five sections:

  • Threat and Error Management
  • Situational Awareness
  • Decision Making
  • Critical Thinking
  • Thinking — Situational Awareness and Decision Making

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or downright prejudiced. Yet, the quality of our life — and that of what we produce, make or build — depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

Speaker’s notes provide additional information, they can be selected by clicking the right mouse button, select Screen, select Speakers notes.

This presentation can be printed in the notes format to provide a personal reference document.

threat and error management



Undesired States

Threat and Error Management

Threat and error management (TEM) is a major safety process in aviation.

TEM consists of detecting, avoiding or trapping threats and errors that challenge safe operations. Where threats and errors are not contained, the resulting conditions must be managed and their adverse effects reduced.

All flight and ground operations


Avoid / Trap


Situational Awareness




Decision Making




Fly the aircraft, Navigate, Communicate, Manage

situational awareness




Gathering data











Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is having an accurate understanding of our surroundings — where we are, what happened, what is happening, what is changing and what could happen.

Good situational awareness requires:

  • Gathering data (sensing, perception), seeking cues in the environment
  • Assembling information to give understanding (comprehension)
  • Thinking ahead (projection)

Thinking about situational awareness involves:

  • Directing our attention to seek data; scanning a range of sources
  • Evaluating information without bias, for accuracy and relevance
  • Understanding, using our knowledge and previous experiences
  • Comparing and checking, visualizing future events — ‘What if?’
  • Planning ahead, considering possible outcomes
decision making
Decision Making

Decision making involves assessment and choosing a course of action.

Decision making requires an understanding of the situation and controlled thinking.

The situation determines the urgency of the decision, risks and limits of action.

Controlled thinking:

  • Reduces risk
  • Moderates behavior
  • Manages time constraints
  • Uses knowledge; seeks options
  • Judges relevance and the quality of the choice
  • Prepares for action, evaluates the outcome or a future situation








Detect a change

Estimate significance

Choose a safe outcome

Identify possible actions

Do take action

Evaluate the result


Gather Information

Review Information

Analyze Alternatives


Evaluate Outcome of Action

5 D






critical thinking

Critical thinking is the skill of thinking about your thinking

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking provides the mental control and discipline required for situational assessment and decision making. It involves several skills that can be learned, practiced and improved.

Control your mind by:

  • Seeking and understanding information, facts and data
  • Effective planning, briefing and communication
  • Increasing knowledge; gaining experience
  • Learning within a context (situation)

Maintain discipline by:

  • Being aware of how you think; hazardous attitudes
  • Evaluating your actions; having self regulation
  • Being aware of all available resources
  • Being sensitive to feedback

Think inside the box before you think outside of the box

“Are we in charge of our thinking, or is our thinking in charge of us?“

critical thinking self awareness
Critical Thinking — Self awareness

Self awareness — self questioning, self monitoring

Am I biased in my thinking?

Have I made a plan for what I want to do?

Are my ideas or knowledge on this issue correct?

Am I aware of my thinking; what am I trying to do?

Am I using all of the resources for what I want to do?

Am I evaluating my thinking; what would I do differently next time?

Am I aware of how well I am doing; do I need to change my actions or intentions?

Monitoring is checking the quality or testing the accuracy of a situation

on a regular basis. It is keeping a close watch over

parameters and supervising the outcome.

It is checking for threats in our thinking.

critical thinking knowledge
Critical Thinking — Knowledge

Improving your thinking — Knowledge

About yourself

  • Commitment: to safety, not following feelings or preference
  • Positive attitudes: persistence, resourcefulness, learning from failure
  • Attention to detail: seeing the big picture, determining relevance, assessing risk

About the thinking processes

  • Knowing the facts necessary to do a task by seeking information
  • Knowing how to do a task, how to scan, understand and think ahead
  • Knowing why certain strategies work, when to use them, why one is better than another

Knowledge to control the thinking processes

  • Self evaluation: assessing current technical knowledge, setting objectives, selecting resources
  • Self regulation: checking progress; reviewing choices, procedures, objectives, resources
  • Planning: choosing and planning a path to the objective, using procedures

Planning is the process of thinking about what you will do in the event of something happening or not happening.

critical thinking habits
Critical Thinking — Habits

Improving your thinking — Habits

Changing our thinking habits requires effort; clear thinking is an essential

part of airmanship and has to be developed throughout our careers.

Unskilled: Basic training only provides those skills necessary to be safe.

Safe: Continuation training and experience enable an effective operation.

Effective: More technical knowledge, practiced skills and experience give an efficient operation.

Efficient: Skillful command in controlling the aircraft and team leadership move toward a precision operation.

Precision: An operator who has gained and maintains precise technical and non-technical skills as a result of great personal effort.

  • Expert thinkers
    • Focus on central issues
    • Identify relevant information
    • Consider information on merit
    • Test and check the basis of their awareness and decisions
critical thinking personal briefing
Critical Thinking — Personal briefing

Improving your thinking — Briefing

Before flight, self-briefing reinforces memory cues and knowledge, which aid the recall of information for use in situational assessment and decision making.

Know what, who, where and when to prioritize your attention

Always brief routine operations — repetition aids memory

Structure the briefing along the intended flight path

Visualize your actions (plane, path, people)

Consider the significant threats

Recall lessons from training

Refresh SOPs


Do not rush:

Your thoughts control your actions.

critical thinking personal debrief
Critical Thinking — Personal debrief

Improving your thinking — Debrief

After each flight, consider the following points — Plus, Minus, Interesting


What was good

What went according to plan


What was not so good, and why

What didn’t you know; find the answer before the next flight


Have you changed the way you see things: threats, risks, people or procedures

What did you learn, why, and where did the information come from?

Will you share this with others; if not why not?

Anything for an air safety event report?

Any issues for confidential reporting?

Did you experience:

High workload

Poor attitudes

Biased opinions

Mismanaged time

Unanswered questions





thinking about situational awareness and decision making



Undesired States






Decision Making


Pattern recognition





Working memory

Long-term memory - knowledge, biases, beliefs

Thinking about Situational Awareness and Decision Making

Situational awareness and decision making depend on our ability to think.

Thinking enables humans to be very successful, but this ability also enables errors that, if not controlled, present risks in our daily activities.

All flight and ground operations

Value your ability, use it wisely

Attention resources







critical thinking for situational awareness


Critical Thinking — for Situational Awareness

Critical thinking for situational awareness — seek information

Essential components:

  • Accuracy — Is the information true?
  • Clarity — Can the information be understood?
  • Precision — Seek detail to understand the situation.
  • Relevance — Is the information connected to the situation?
  • Depth — Does the information address the complexity of the situation?
  • Breadth — Are there other points of view or other ways to consider this situation?
  • Logic — Does your understanding of the situation make sense?

Whenever you do not understand something, ask yourself a question for clarification

critical thinking for decision making


  • Routine
  • Trained
  • For
  • Unusual
  • Novel







Critical Thinking — for Decision Making

Critical thinking for decision making — the choice of action

Essential components:

  • State the objective of the decision to be made
  • Identify information to be used in making the decision
  • Gather the evidence and information required to make a decision
  • Make a decision based on criteria (a safe outcome), information and risks
  • Ask what the evidence and information mean, considering the objective

Think about the situation, compare with SOPs, training and previous experience

Think about which SOP applies to the situation, compare with training

Almost automatic action; SOPs have been thought through during training

critical thinking15

Threat and Error






Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is at the center of all safety processes and human activity.

Critical Thinking

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