Journal of Air Law and Commerce

ORCID (Links to author’s additional scholarship at ORCID.org)

Felicity Deane: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1980-6576

Kieran Tranter: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1683-2939


Decision-making can be the difference between life and death in all types of aviation, but in general aviation (GA), where most of the flying is conducted as single-pilot operations, the decision-making of one individual becomes fundamentally important. It is critical to consider, first, why pilots make bad decisions that can ultimately lead to weather-related aviation accidents or incidents; and second, whether a better understanding of weather-related decision-making can inform regulations that will improve decision-making and consequently reduce the frequency of pilot-error accidents.

Behavioral economics (BE) aims to better understand individual decision-making to model decision-making pathways. As individual decision-making is central to aviation safety, better modeling of decision-making pathways should be a central aim not just for pilots, but also for aviation regulators, such as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia. While there has been little analysis of pilot decision-making using BE, we argue that BE, with its focus on predictive models of individual decision-making, provides a rich framework to understand pilot decision-making and inform more targeted regulation.

This argument is in four parts. The first part identifies that there is an ongoing safety issue with visual flight rules (VFR) pilots flying into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). The second part introduces some of the core concepts of BE, such as the rejection of perfect rationality and the reliance upon certain behavioral biases in decision-making. We argue that VFR into IMC is an appropriate context in which to apply BE as there is an identifiable measure of a pilot’s welfare and concerns around paternalism fall short when dealing with protecting the welfare of those likely to be impacted by a pilot’s decision-making, such as passengers and aircraft owners.

The third part reviews the existing research applying behavioral models of decision-making in respect of VFR into IMC and identifies three behavioral biases that—among others—can lead to poor decision-making: (i) environmental literacy, (ii) overconfidence, and (iii) prospect theory. The final part briefly introduces some potential avenues for BE to inform regulatory reform, including better education of pilots and regulators in respect of the psychological factors to which pilots may fall victim, as well as more directed training for pilots to address the environmental literacy concerns identified in this part. We conclude that the regulatory environment should be reformulated to adequately account for predictable behavioral biases.



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)