The importance of the human element in aviation

General Aviation News has recently reprinted an interesting article from the latest edition of FAA Aviation News entitled “The importance of the human element.” The article makes the point that many general aviation accidents follow a similar path and hence the FAA focuses its human factors research on how various stakeholders such as pilots, controllers, dispatchers, AMTs, flight attendants and ground personnel carry out their jobs.

One interesting observation made came as a result of a simulator study involving pilots of varying experience levels and bad weather. The results showed that:

Although you might predict that experienced pilots would be more willing to forge ahead, the study actually found that more experienced pilots were more skeptical, less willing to fly the planned route under VFR, and more likely to divert and to maintain weather and terrain separation during flight.

In other words, experience has a big and often positive influence on pilot behavior.

In addition, the article mentioned other insights from FAA research in the areas of threat and error management, perception, decision making, workload and technology. In fact, the pros and cons of technology could best be summed up by the statement in the article that:

Advances in technology can bring unintended consequences. In 2004, researchers found that pilots with access to higher-resolution NEXRAD weather images were more likely to try navigating between areas of heavy precipitation in a simulation study. This response was not the intended use of the system, which was designed to help pilots give significant weather a wide berth.

The entire article is well worth reading and for anyone who is interested in reading more about how our minds work with regards to flying, we suggest that you read our “The neuroscience behind screwing up” post from a few weeks ago.

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