The Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge identifies five hazardous attitudes pilots have
which result in poor decision making.
It is not wrong to have a dangerous attitude. We all have these tendencies to varying
degrees, since we are all imperfect humans. The pilot who recognizes and corrects a
dangerous attitude is safe. A dangerous pilot is one who feels he has no issues with
his attitude. He is simply failing to find and correct his tendencies toward poor
Anti-Authority - "Don't tell me."
A pilot is responsible for the safety of each flight and draws on experience and
judgment in the performance of that flight.
The pilot in command is the final authority and is ultimately responsible for the
operation of the airplane.
This role of final authority can mask an anti-authority attitude.
A person with anti-authority tendencies may feel resentment whenever they feel someone
is telling them what to do.
This may cause them to override rules and procedures when it is not necessary, or in the
best interest of safety, to do so.
There's a big difference between a pilot who refuses an air traffic control instruction due
to engine problems and one who routinely decides checklists are crutches he has outgrown.
To counteract an anti-authority attitude, you should recognize that you are human. Regardless
of your experience level, how accomplished you are in other areas of your life, how smart your
friends say you are, or even just how plain amazing you are at flying an airplane, you are
still capable of making a mistake. The rules and procedures are in place to help you avoid
the traps that have taken down others. You and I could go flying tomorrow and succumb to those
same traps. But, it's very unlikely to happen if we use the rules that are in place as a
starting point for how we operate when we fly.
Impulsivity - "Do it quickly."
There are times, especially in a single engine airplane, when immediate action must be
taken. If you have an engine failure at 150 feet just after takeoff, you don't have
time to troubleshoot the problem. This is why pilots brief and stay current on
these immediate action items.
There might be another instance where there is ample time to troubleshoot. Perhaps
weather has closed in on your destination airport, for example.
Regardless of the urgency of the situation, things can get uncomfortable when something
weird is going on. There can be a great desire to take action quickly.
It can be hard to stay calm and realize that taking the time to work the problem methodically
will probably produce a better result than the first action that comes to your mind.
The analogy that comes to mind is that of soldiers clearing a room. One soldier might enter
a room and be confronted with a target that represents an armed terrorist. He might act
impulsively, raise his rifle, and open fire immediately. He would likely find that, while he
got off eight shots in three seconds, his bullets went everywhere except the target, even
at that close range. The better soldier, even when being shot at by the enemy, stops, aims,
and shoots. This second soldier gets off two shots in under two seconds, and they both hit the
Being methodical doesn't have to mean doing things slowly. You just have to engage your mind
and make each action intentional, not emotional. The successful soldier only took a half a second
to go through the process of focusing on where he wanted his rifle aimed. This is why the army
often teaches this concept by teaching that slow is fast.
To combat impulsivity, realize that it's not about how quickly you solve the problem. It might
take 5 seconds, 5 minutes, 50 minutes. What matters is how you go about working the problem.
Take actions intentionally.
Invulnerability - "I won't happen to me."
An attitude of invulnerability could strike someone who is naive and inexperienced. But, it often
gets a pilot with considerable experience. After enough time goes by and nothing bad happens, this pilot
naturally starts to take it for granted that nothing bad can happen.
Over time, he starts breaking seemingly insignificant rules or procedures. He observes that time
after time, nothing bad happens. And so, breaking small rules and procedures becomes routine.
However, what he doesn't realize is that these minor details he's ignoring are, in fact, very
significant. Beyond being significant of their own accord, their primary significance in this
case is that by breaking them, our example pilot has established a pattern of thinking in which
this way of flying is acceptable.
The pilot who fails to recognize and correct this fundamental attitude change begins to feel more
and more comfortable with flying in a more and more dangerous manner. He may start doing things
that he wouldn't have considered earlier in his flying. But, now, they become normal. He keeps
getting away with it, and this emboldens his attitude that nothing bad will ever happen to him.
Hopefully, he will recognize this attitude problem before it is too late. Many times, there are
warnings, close calls, before an accident flight - last chances to make the change. But, it will
eventually get him, and his innocent passengers, if he doesn't fix his attitude.
The rule here is: Don't turn your back on mother nature. She is patient and forgiving, but she is
also fair. Eventually, she will let you know the rules do indeed apply to you. As the old folk
song says, "You can run on for a long time, but sooner or later God'll cut you down."
You can correct an attitude of invulnerability by realizing that it can be an attitude that
presents itself in subtle ways over time. Do not allow yourself wiggle room when it comes to
doing things the right way, because it goes beyond one instance of wrongdoing. It is a step
down a path that ends in an airplane accident.
The invulnerability a pilot feels from an accident is similar to the invulnerability a criminal
feels to being caught. Most criminals don't just jump into a major crime spree. They push their
comfort limits little by little, over time. And, like the dangerous pilot, they get away with it.
They expand their comfort zone and start doing bigger and more serious crimes. Like the
accident pilot, they probably have a few close calls or warnings right before the end of their
If they were able to recognize and correct their behavior on their own, they would probably get
away with their crimes. But, like the dangerous pilot, it is likely the criminal will wind up
being corrected by force.
If you find you disagree with a rule or procedure, challenge the rule formally. It may be
something that is out dated and can be changed or done away with completely. Or, you may
find that someone explains why the rule is still relevant to your flying. Either way,
what is important is to recognize that following a particular rule goes way beyond the
scope of the rule in question. Every flight is unique. You don't get bonus credits because
you did another flight the right way. Always give mother nature the respect she demands.
Macho - "I can do it."
It takes surprisingly little for people to become quite enamored with themselves. When an ego
gets too big, it starts to become something a person needs to start defending. This leads
to bad decision making.
The macho attitude can go down many paths. One pilot may be very competitive by nature, while
another may be driven by a desire to be accepted by a group of peers. Under the influence of
this attitude, a pilot will be driven to intentionally make poor decisions.
Many pilots have failed to make the decision to go-around off a bad approach. They can see
that they are too high and too fast. They will often even verbalize that "this isn't working"
or "we need to go around" right before a landing in which they go off the far end of the runway.
Another common mistake driven by a macho attitude is loading the airplane with too much weight
or out of balance.
You can counter a macho attitude simply by recognizing the tendency in yourself and setting
rules that you don't break.
Resignation - "What's the use?"
An attitude of resignation might result in a pilot allowing himself to take the easy way out.
Resignation reduces a pilot to more of a passenger, someone who is legally pilot in command
but who is really just along for the ride. This pilot tends to attribute whatever happens
to luck, refusing to take responsibility for the outcome of each flight. A pilot with a
resignation attitude might place a very high value on being "laid back" or a "nice guy".
Counter resignation tendencies by actively leading the flight to a safe outcome, instead
of just hoping things work out okay on their own. Make sure you are performing your duty
as a pilot to ensure a safe flight, and don't take a certain path just because it's easier.