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What is DH in Aviation? (Decision Height)

Updated: February 28, 2024

Understanding Decision Height (DH) in Aviation

Aviation is a complex field that requires precise calculations and decisions to ensure the safety of passengers and crew. Among the many terms used in aviation, one important term is Decision Height (DH). DH refers to a critical altitude during an aircraft's approach to landing, where the pilot must make a decision to either continue the approach or execute a missed approach procedure. This article will delve into the concept of Decision Height, its significance in aviation, and how it is determined.

The Definition and Importance of Decision Height

Decision Height (DH) is defined as the altitude at which a pilot must decide whether to continue the approach or initiate a missed approach procedure. It is a predetermined altitude, typically measured in feet above the ground, that allows the pilot to assess the runway and its surroundings visually. The decision to continue or abort the landing is influenced by factors such as visibility, runway conditions, and aircraft positioning.

Decision Height plays a crucial role in aviation safety. By setting a specific altitude at which a decision must be made, it ensures that pilots have enough time to evaluate the situation and take appropriate action. This altitude is typically determined based on the minimum visibility requirements and operational considerations specific to each airport and approach procedure. Adhering to the decision height and taking prompt action when necessary is vital to avoid accidents and ensure a safe landing.

The Determination of Decision Height

The determination of Decision Height involves several factors that must be considered to establish a safe threshold for pilots to make their crucial decision. These factors include:

1. Visibility Requirements: The visibility criteria set by aviation authorities play a significant role in determining the Decision Height. These requirements vary depending on the type of approach being conducted, the equipment available on the aircraft, and the airport's specific regulations. For instance, instrument approaches typically have lower visibility requirements compared to visual approaches.
2. Runway Conditions: The condition of the runway and its surroundings also impact the Decision Height. If the runway is wet, contaminated with snow or ice, or has obstacles in close proximity, a higher Decision Height may be necessary to ensure a safe landing. Runway lighting and markings, along with the presence of approach aids such as Precision Approach Path Indicators (PAPI) or Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), also contribute to the determination of Decision Height.
3. Aircraft Equipment and Performance: The aircraft's onboard equipment and performance capabilities are crucial in establishing the Decision Height. Different aircraft have varying capabilities, such as autopilot systems and advanced avionics, which can assist the pilots during the approach. The aircraft's approach category, based on its speed and landing characteristics, also influences the Decision Height.
4. Regulatory Requirements: Aviation authorities, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, provide guidelines and regulations regarding Decision Height. These guidelines ensure consistency and safety across different airports and approach procedures. Pilots are required to adhere to these regulations and make their decision at or above the specified Decision Height.

The determination of Decision Height is a collaborative effort between aviation authorities, airport operators, and aircraft manufacturers. Extensive analysis of factors such as weather conditions, runway characteristics, and aircraft performance is conducted to establish appropriate Decision Heights for different airports and approach procedures.

It is important to note that Decision Height is not a fixed value and can vary from airport to airport and even between different approaches within the same airport. Pilots must be aware of the specific Decision Height for each approach they fly and ensure they have the necessary information and equipment to make an informed decision.


Decision Height is a critical concept in aviation that ensures pilots have the necessary information and time to make a crucial decision during an approach to landing. By setting a specific altitude at which the decision must be made, aviation authorities and airport operators prioritize safety and provide consistent guidelines for pilots to follow. The determination of Decision Height involves considering factors such as visibility requirements, runway conditions, aircraft equipment, and regulatory guidelines. It is essential for pilots to understand and adhere to the Decision Height specified for each approach to ensure a safe landing.

For more information on aviation terminology and procedures, visit FAA.

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