Situational Awareness in Aviation

Situational awareness is the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future…

Put simply;
– What’s happened (past)
– What’s happening (present)
– What might happen (future)

Skilled pilots are better able to acquire and maintain their situational awareness. The skill is best  learned through a composite of training, feedback and self reflection. The following is a compilation of tips to help pilots focus on developing situational awareness.

Starting with you:

  • Mentally tough people are better focused and able to forge ahead, pilots should focus on the things that work.
  • Pilots that have ‘mental baggage’ such as financial stress, personal difficulties can be taken on-board… and may detract from mental resources dedicated for the task of flying… particular problematic when an emergency arises or the patient becomes task saturated.
  • Exercise and good nutrition help pilots to think clearly and make good decisions… aim for 30-60 mins of dedicated exercise each day.
    – Fatigue
    – Avoid drugs and alcohol
    – Fed and Hydrated
    – Avoid stress
  • There is a connection between personal confidence and performance (i.e. competence and command) as a pilot

Pre-Flight Planning and Preparation:

  •  Give oneself time to plan ahead and ask what-if, and have a plan for every what-if… even short flights can be planned up to a week in advance in accordance with route, NOTAMS, weather, terrain etc.
  • Prepare maps, charts, relevant runways
  • Clean the windscreen – avoid focal traps!

In-Flight Routine:

  •  Stay ahead of the aircraft and plan for tasks to be performed such as setting new frequencies before transition points. Rushing and doing things at the last can lead to delay and increased errors.
  • Avoid becoming fixated on a single task or distractions
  • Scan outside and be vigilant
    • Beware of ’empty field myopia’ phenomenon – where the eyes adopt a natural rest position when there’s ‘nothing perceptibly seen’… this can be avoided by  regular forced checks with changes focus in the field from near to far!
    • Most pilots tend to scan only out the front of their aircraft whereas dangers can come from all angles..
  • Beyond ‘see and avoid’ … build a model of the situation.
    • Always ask the question “do I have the full picture”
    • Listen out for other aircraft in the area
    • Note real-time weather factors (wind direction and strength, cloud, storms), time and place, fuel levels.


  • Review data from GPS or other video/audio recording devices.
  • Write notes on every flight compiling also pre-flight notes.
  • Be as thorough as possible in recalling and reconstructing how a situation occurred, this can also help generate an understanding of the gaps in your own knowledge!

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