During the last few decades our way of dealing with and analysis of human factors as major contributors to aviation accidents has become a visible part of aviation accident investigations. Today, human factors and some of it’s key elements are considered a fully integrated, yet independently viewed part of aviation psychology. When we hear the word pilot error our mental picture may present us with something different from what we are really dealing with. The reason for that is easily understood when we consider how the technology and average workday of a pilot has changed.
Flying a new generation of airplane demands a different approach, afterall the airplanes capabilities in many cases far succeeds those of the aircrew. While many argue that this is sad, it is nonetheless true and introduces a completely different set of issues. Today we have to wonder how pilots keep their cool in intelligent, self sufficient machines and how they cope with the challenges of operating them wisely. Flying airplanes is considered a mostly “mental activity” and not considered to be demanding much of physical labor. Pilot and Crew are tasked with doing the following:
- 3 dimensonal control of aircraft attitude.
- Navigation and adherence to previously completed flightplans which is mainly composed of oversight, control and management of various things such as engine parameters, position of flaps, displays, automated components as well as management and oversight of electrical and hydraulical systems.
- Interpersonal communication and coordination which includes radio communication with ATC as well as crew coordination and leadership.
Doing this exposes pilots to a multitude of (more or less) complicated psychological challenges that must be effectively dealt with or overcome to lead each and every flight to a successful ending. Looking at the incredible number of visual and audiovisual clues, the constant stream of information which must be mentally processed (oftentimes under significant time pressure) as well as the filtering of a tremendous amount of information as well as comparing it with previously “saved” information before evaluating and applying them into a series of actions, demands a lot from our brains. Furthermore we are looking at changing between procedural operations and sudden, (oftentimes flexible not set in stone) situationally affected motorphysical reactions that are called for, by each individual situation. Pilots and Crew are (depending on their own physical and psychological condition) under constantly high pressure and this pressure is perceived differently and affected by many things, such as the differences in training status, personal situation, flight experience and emotions. Tremendous emotional and psychological pressure results from extreme situations while flying and this pressure affects our physiological condition as well. With the PIC (Pilot In Command) rests the highest level of perceived and lived responsibility.
Psychological Qualifiers For Pilots:
Todays pilots need to possess a multitude of skills, knowledge and finely tuned psychomotor skills to be effective:
- Ability to pay attention for long periods of time.
- Situational Alertness and Awareness.
- Ability to react correctly the first time.
- Ability to multitask.
- Good short & long term memory.
- Knowledge of Systems in their entire scope.
- Fine tuned motorskills and correct application of them at the right time.
- A “Personality” that allows and assures that dealing with stressors of any kind can be tolerated without significant loss in performance.
While statistical information indicates that the sheer number of accidents is on the decline, we measure an increase in accidents connected to pilot error or human factors vs. technincal issues. This statistical increase must be viewed as a result of the discrepancy between technical and human reliability. Obviously homo sapiens is able to effectively handle the machine and environment in which it is used, yet the human seems to suffer from an inability to change and greatly improve his own way of dealing with and avoiding mistakes in this increasingly complex environment. When we look at statistics it makes very little sense to decrease the percentage of human factors related accidents, more, our goal must be to lower the number of accidents in general with a focus on those who have their reason in human failure. In order to understand and make sense of these issues we must first learn why humans act the way they do. Looking at accident statistics is highly insufficient and not very helpful in establishing accident prevention measures, either.
This blog will soon feature a few articles written by professionals in the field to create a easy to use source when researching this amazing area of Aviation. Understanding human psychology is an elementary part of the new accident investigation process. With cockpit automation increasing and the conditions of employment for our new generation of pilots worsening we will continue to read about and experience terrible accidents. Awareness and the creation of solid knowledge may allow for a more sensible approach to the issue.
The defined goal of the “Human Factors” page is aimed at making the public and the press more aware of what really happens in a Human Factor related Aviation accidents. I have invited a few excellent Flight Instructors to these pages to share how, and in which way we are trying to change the landscape.
The press could take this as an opportunity to educate itself prior to publishing further sensational stories, who may sell but leave the readers mind lead into the wrong direction.
Please stay tuned as this section starts to grow.