Can Judgement be Taught?


by Clint White

Recently, the way pilots are trained has changed. For instructors using the old PTS (Practical Test Standards) there is a new training guide known as the ACS (Airman Certification Standards). Student must still learn maneuvers, but now there is more emphasis on knowledge, experience and correlation. Also among these standards is the use of decision making and safety. These changes are quite positive, but can we actually “teach” a student to use proper judgement or is it just something that you just possess?

Each day, as pilots we are faced with a multitude of decisions. Ideally we try to gather as much information to decide wether we can complete the flight efficiently and safely and then continue to use our “situational awareness” to adapt to changes during the flight. Yet incidents and accidents happen usually due to “pilot error”the result of poor decisions that create the accident chain. For example…. 

The other day, I flew my client in to Tamami from the Bahamas. The forecast called for thunderstorms and indeed there were many in the area. As we approached and landed at the airport we arrived ahead of the weather, but it was closing on the airport on both sides rapidly. As we taxied in, a student pilot called ATC and ask to be cleared for a takeoff and departure to the south which plainly had a massive roll cloud approaching the field from a severe storm. The controller did not tell the student not to do the flight but DID warn him about the weather. After some time (an prodding by the controller) the student (who I believe was not with his instructor) decided not to do the flight, but why would he make such a poor decision to want to go in to such bad weather? Does he just have bad judgment or can it be corrected?

My answer in almost all cases is the judgement CAN be taught. Hopefully the instructor of the above student will take him to the side and teach him once again about using all available information (including looking out the cockpit) in his go or no-go decision. I taught dozens of students over the years and truly believe that if you teach a culture of safety, risk mitigation and logical decision making, most people will use proper judgement. Are there people who might not “get it” yes, but over the years I can count on one hand those kind of people.

As instructors adapt their teaching to the new Airman Certification Standards, it is my hope that students will understand that a logical and cautious approach to each flight can mitigate their risks and their training will lead to proper use of judgement in each phase of their flight from takeoff to landing.

What do you think? Can judgement be taught? We would love to hear you opinions on this issue.