Cockpit Automation / The Impact Term Paper

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Cognitive laziness, according to the experts, is a condition in which people reveal a tendency to take short cuts for a number of things, including a short cut to flying on automation, as in this case. Social loafing refers to the tendency displayed by people, in which people tend to expend lesser effort in any given situation, when there is a group of individuals involved. ("Cockpit automation may bias decision making," 1999)

Most individuals, stated Dr. Skitka, tended to display a tendency to slack off when there was a situation that warranted a sharing of responsibility. Therefore, in this case, when the computer is a part of the group, the same tendency would apply. Diffusion of responsibility refers to the inclination of individuals to conform to the demands that figures of authority make on them. In this particular case, the computer was taken as an authority figure, or at the very least, a figure that was infinitely smarter than the user. The users of the computer aided automation within the cockpit were more likely to follow the instructions being given by the machine, even though it may be contra-indicatory or contradictory. As a direct result, introducing a computer to make automated decisions for pilots may well lead to the creation of an entirely new and different set of errors, as in the Doctor's words, "Changing the context changes the opportunity for error." ("Cockpit automation may bias decision making," 1999)

According to Donald a Norman, of the University of California, San Diego, automation in itself is not the problem; rather, it is the inappropriate use of automation that is causing all the problems in the aviation industry. In his opinion, inappropriate application of automation could well lead to accidents of the kind that the aviation industry tries to blame on 'over-automation' and its associated pitfalls. Therefore, he feels, automation must be brought in to the industry today, although within a more appropriate framework, or at least by making a concerted attempt to remove some forms of already existing automation. Today's automations have 'an intermediate level of intelligence', which tends to aggravate the existing problems, and to maximize difficulties and problems. The design of the automation can also be extremely important, feels Donald Norman; the design must be able to encompass the entire system, that is, the equipment, the crew, the social structure within the cockpit, the training and learning activities, the cooperative activities carried out within the framework, and also the overall goals of the task. (Norman, 1990)

More often than not, automation tends to be implemented with absolutely no changes within the overall design first, and this could mean that the automation would be a failure rather than a success, which could have been avoided if efforts had been made to improve the design at the outset, before bringing in automation. Take for example the tasks of the crew on a commercial airline, where almost all the flight activity can be considered to be normal and routine. It is common knowledge that large modern aircraft are easy to fly, and the aircraft would generally be maneuverable, stable and responsive at any time, with automation automatically monitoring all in-flight equipment and operations thereby easing the workload of the crew. This is evidenced in the fact that today's aircrafts require only two people to fly them, although in reality only one person would be needed, as compared to the aircraft of yore in which three people were expected to be present to fly the aircraft. (Norman, 1990)

Today, there are lesser numbers of reported accidents, and it is generally assumed today that the decrease can be totally attributed to the fact that automation has pervaded the industry completely of late, and this means that it can be safer today to fly an aircraft. This may or may not be true, feels Donald Norman. For one, the crew flying a large plane may not in actuality be aware of all that is happening on the flight; they may be physically isolated from the passenger section of the flight, and may not know what is actually happening there. The crew is also more often than not isolated from the physical structures of the aircraft, and to add to this, the mental isolation that the crew faces as a result of the automation within the cockpit can in fact lead to greater danger than ever before. This is because of the fact that the automated controls within the cockpit that is responsible for monitoring and controlling the aircraft leaves no room or trace of its various operations to the crew managing them, and this would isolate and separate them from the moment to moment operations of the aircraft and the control within the cockpit. While it may be true that this form of isolation or segregation would be able to effectively reduce the workload of the crew, and also the reliance on human variability and failures, it may also contribute directly to the magnitude of the problems if any within the aircraft, when the crew is faced with immediately diagnosing the escalating situation, and in designing an appropriately best course of action with which to face the situation. (Norman, 1990)

Experts state that physical isolation as such would be suitable for the crew, if they kept themselves up-to-date on the critical states and stages of the devices that they are controlling and manipulating, but the problem with physical isolation and separation could be that it would automatically lead to a form of mental isolation as well, and when this happens, it could be very dangerous indeed. Zuboff gives an example of the control room of a modern day paper mill. Whereas in previous times the crew would remain on the floor, and therefore aware at any moment of what was happening to the equipment, now the crew may be poised on the floor above the mill and other equipment, sitting isolated within a sound proof glass covered cabin, with no real physical evidence of what is happening down the stairs away from where they are sitting. This would make them vulnerable to mistakes and errors, especially since they are removed from the meters and other displays of the mill while work is in progress. In the same way, automatic equipment on an aircraft would effectively isolate the crew from the actual functioning of the machines within the cockpit, and this could be dangerous indeed in any given situation. (Norman, 1990)

Take for example the case of Flight China Airlines 747, which rolled and went into a vertical dive from about 31,500 feet, severely damaging the aircraft and leaving no room at all for recovery. What happened was that the aircraft suffered a gradual loss of power from its right engine, and when normally this would have caused the aircraft to yaw to the right side, the autopilot compensated for the yaw, until such time that it reached the final stage of its ability to compensate for the yawing, and the plane could no longer remain stable. It was at this time that the crew was able to determine the actual problem, but by this time, of course, it was much too late to take a proper decision about the action to take to make up for the loss of power from the right engine. (Norman, 1990)

The aircraft went into a roll and nosedived from several thousand feet. The questions is this: could this accident have been averted if the human crew manning the aircraft had been more vigilant and careful, rather than rely completely on the automations that had been implemented within the cockpit / could this accident have been stopped from happening, if a human being had been manning the aircraft and manipulating the controls, rather than the autopilot than took over when it could and stopped when it could go no further? Take the other example of a vigilant officer managing to detect one problem, while at the same time failing to detect another on his aircraft. The second officer reported that although he was feeding fuel to all the three engines of the aircraft from the number 2 fuel tank, the number 3 fuel tank was showing a decline in its fuel. Soon enough, it was noticed that the wheel was cocked to the right. The pilot was instructed to turn off the autopilot, and when this was done, it became apparent that the aircraft was displaying a 'roll' tendency, thereby signifying the reality that they were now faced with an out of balance situation. (Norman, 1990) large amount of fuel was being lost, and the aircraft was in imminent danger of crashing. In this example, it is obvious that it was because the second officer was able to provide the very valuable information that there was something horribly wrong with the fuel balance and this despite the…[continue]

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