U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

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


June 2004 




Thought for the month..... The very technology designed to make our lives easier
is often responsible for making it more complex.

Old dogs really don't like to learn new tricks…. Previously I wrote about the new FAA model for aeronautical decision making called the 3-P's. The 3-P's stand for: perceive, process, and perform, and one of the concepts of the model is called "satisficing". Satisficing happens when we perceive a situation and we realize a decision is necessary. Because we're usually time constrained, our processing will be condensed and we will select the first suitable solution based on our knowledge, experience, and training.

You might say that satisficing is tantamount to guessing right or predicting correctly. Neither of those has anything to do with luck. If we knowingly allow our options to be reduced to luck, the outcome can be determined by a flip of a coin. If you're reading this letter it is not likely that you are a person who relies totally on luck. Guessing correctly on the other hand, means that we have a number of options before us, one of which is to discontinue what we are doing, and another is the best solution to the problem from the remaining options, all of which are good to some extent.

Too many things in aviation are driven by external factors. We set ourselves up for failure by framing events in the "Go" mode. We schedule a flight with friends and we're not about to let a little weather change the plan. It's not just an ego thing or too much macho, as we have been taught to believe, it's more like we don't know what we don't know. We don't realize that we aren't perceiving the situation correctly. That's why runway incursions happen. Most of us are smart enough to ask for help when we get lost taxiing around on an airport. The problem is, we don't know we're lost until the very last instant when we see the landing lights bearing down on us. To avoid accidents, we need to be able to see the world clearly, observe the changes, and adapt accordingly.

Adapting. That's the crux of the problem. Aviation is fluid and constantly changing. Our ability to adapt is really what saves the day. Training helps make our guesses more accurate in given situations. Unfortunately, we all have a tendency to get stuck in a particular place, usually because we learned that information or technique first (primacy). One of the major problems with traditional follow-on training programs, such as safety programs, is that they rarely change the behavior of individuals. Once a procedure becomes a "habit" it is very difficult for us to change. The problem is not learning the new information or procedure, the problem is unlearning the old way. The truth is, we really don't like change.

It's a natural function of our brain to try to protect and preserve everything we know. Initially, when we are introduced to a new task, we have to concentrate on every aspect of it. Our performance is slow and full of errors. After some practice however, we begin to perform more effortlessly, without having to concentrate on each step. Hovering a helicopter was a challenging task to master. I knew which way the controls were supposed to move, but training my hand to apply only the correct input took some time. Having mastered the skill, I remember the first time I switched hands and held the cyclic with my left hand so I could adjust something with my right. Although I had never done it before, I could operate it as precisely with that hand as I had with my right hand. Then I discovered I could hold the cyclic with my knees and keep the aircraft under perfect control. How did these other body parts get so smart?

Like many other things, adapting is a learned skill. This is a good time to be adaptable in general aviation, and some will choose not to. New technology is upon us. Unfortunately, frustration, the time and cost of extra training, and the increased likelihood of errors, incidents, and accidents, will take their toll and will probably effect the drop out rate. When GPS first hit the scene, many were excited about the possibilities it presented. When the reality of GPS finally made it into the instrument panel, a lot of pilots were put off by the complexity of the operations and the fact that many functions were counter-intuitive. Some perceviered and learned how to utilize all the bells and whistles while the remainder were satisified with mastering the DIRECT TO function.

Prior knowledge and skills can either enhance or interfere with subsequent learning. If pre-existing learning is correct and is consistent with new learning, then the old enhances the learning of the new. However, if prior knowledge is incorrect and differs from the new information being taught, our brain tends to treat it like computer spam. We receive the information but it's held in a different part and not in our working memory. When we're satisficing, it won't be one of the first options we consider.

The first part of the Aeronautical Decision Making model is "Perceive". Our perceptions are always going to be filtered through our attitudes, values, and experiences. Training affects our perceptions by providing us with core information. The more we have, the more options will be available when we "satisfice". Old dogs may not like to learn new tricks, but it doesn't mean we can't.

Upcoming Events

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.

August 12
Grecian Steak House
1108 W. South By Pass
Kennett, MO
The Successful Cross Country
7-9:30 P.M.

August 19
Mid-Coast Training Center
18 Mark Allen Drive
St. Louis Downtown Airport
Part 135 Safety and Standardization Meeting

October 23
Mid-Coast Training Center
18 Mark Allen Drive
St. Louis Downtown Airport
8th Annual Helicopter Safety Seminar
9 A.M. to 4 P.M

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