Human Factors Term Paper

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Human Factors in Aviation

Brief Historical Background

The Airline Industry has a history that dates back to 1903 when the Wright brothers made their first successful flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Initially the public did not take the idea of the airplane travel favorably. But this event marked the beginning of the Airline Industry as more and more inputs were given by people such as Charles Lindbergh who successfully completed a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and created massive interest in flying with the general public.

The concern for human factor involvement in aviation started as soon as the interest of general public was roused in it. The initial concern was for the safety of people daring to fly the aircraft as accidents were reported due to a flaw in the design or working of the plane. A pilot task was to juggle with the complexity of design of initial Airplanes. With World War 2, Govt. spending increased on R& D. paving the way for innovation and introduction of modernized planes and the stress on certain human traits for the pilots increased manifold, as did the interest of youth in becoming aviators.

Human Factor

The importance of human factor increased many times when it was realized that most accidents that take place are due to the human factor or human error. So, consideration of this human factor in the aviation rather than mechanical factors gained tremendous grounds. The scope of human factor is vast and it is related to psychology, physiology, environment, human capabilities and limitations, user-friendly machines, ergonomics etc.

By having the understanding of different areas of human involvement the chance of errors can be reduced and safety can be assured. It is a widely accepted fact now that if there are fewer human errors, the safety will be better.

Technology and Human Interaction

Technology is a constantly evolving feature in the aviation industry. Innovations and new technologies keep on coming up with regular intervals. The training of crew is also considered important feature in term of understanding of the given technology. The problem here is that most of the times it happens that technology evolves faster and human training cannot keep pace with the rapid changes in technology. At times the understanding and human interaction with technology is not sufficient resulting in major problems. One cannot ignore the natural human limitations that are and will always be there but the task should be to enhance this human and technology interaction to produce better results and success and safety in aviation. For this matter, human factors specialists are involved to bring about a high level of success in design and training for both flight crews and maintenance technicians. For this human factor specialists work in close co-ordination with different personnel like engineers, safety experts, test and training pilots, mechanics, and cabin crews etc.


With the introduction of B707 or the B727 airplanes the era of automated cockpit started and also the issue of human factors involved with the problems related to cockpit automation arose. Many fingers were pointed at the drawbacks in automation design and non-user friendly interface. As a result of these criticisms manufacturers started laying greater importance to human elements involved in design because it makes sense that the more concern they have in automation design for the pilot the better it is for the whole industry. Aircraft crashes and accidents have mainly brought the issues involved with automation to the fore. Political groups, social organization, NGOs have started question the need for involvement of a thorough study of human factor in automation. This stress resulted in the interaction of the industry and human factor academics to perk up the human-machine interface.

All glass cockpits now have two prominent features of Aircraft automation and computerization in them. There are many benefits that were attained by the introduction the modern glass cockpits like safety, efficiency, speed etc. But problems also keep on coming to front. The initial hitch was that pilots could not make the smooth transitions to the glass cockpits due to resistance in habit change. The main problem however was with more detailed and fast results available with the help of computerized databases. An array of information available to pilots has actually confused them in certain cases and has resulted in crashes for example in case of Thai A310 accident near Katmandu, Nepal, in 1992. Pilots' confusion with the system may result in his losing track of time and path. "Most pilots lack a fundamental grasp of the internal logic of automation and evaluate the gap between their expectations (governed by what they would do if they were in command) and what the computer does" (Daniel, 1999).

Any product should be made keeping the people in mind who are eventually going to use it and with their consultation. The pilots' input in automation has been mainly ignored. Automation is done to help and assist the flight crewmembers rather than replacing or confusing them. Therefore the need is to employ easy to use systems rather than complicated ones. The trend and fact over the years have shown that glass-cockpit incidents/accidents can be reduced considerably if the pilot experience of error can be extremely reduced.

CRM of Aviation

Crew Resource Management (CRM) is considered an essential prevention tool in the aviation system and it was introduced during the 1970s. The safety and effectiveness of the aviation system comes to mind when one mentions the CRM in the context of aviation. "Poor pilot performance and faulty crew resource management (CRM) have been cited as contributing factors in numerous accidents and incidents reported by major airlines during the period covering 1983 to 1985 (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1997)" (Bowers, 2001). Lack of coordination among crewmembers has also come out as one of the major causes of accidents in the past. In such accidents the cause of error was mostly due to the lack of orientation to the team work. CRM equips operational personnel with proper training to achieve the ultimate goal of passengers or goods transportation. CRM seeks to find solutions to not only individual and cognitive problems associated with aviation but tit also attempts to address issues in the overall management and organization. Teamwork is also one area where CRM lays a lot of stress. Apart from the regular technical aspect of training CRM is about general managerial and interpersonal skills such as leadership, effective team formation and maintenance, problem solving, decision-making etc. CRM is supposed to be a proactive rather then reactive approach but in reality the CRM practice has not been done in the way it was supposed to be. If we consider many examples of the past we get to know that CRM had been helpful in averting disasters at times but to say that the overall approach has been proactive would be overstatement. CRM though has gone through different phases and has evolved as an integral part of operational training. CRM was initially considered Cockpit Resource Management but with the introduction of glass cockpits it actually became Crew Resource Management. Mental models, interpersonal skills, team building, stress and fatigue management, automation management, vigilance apart from the basic flight operation aspects became part of CRM over a period of time. Many new activities are becoming a part of the CRM function and its practitioners are trying to find new ways to improve the system. "By exploiting advances in training technology and methods - and, perhaps more important, adopting a systematic methodology for developing training - teamwork in the cockpit will improve. It is up to scientists and practitioners to see that the potential benefits of CRM training are realized in the aviation community" (Bowers, 1999). Over the years, the CRM experts have learned positive lessons but the room for improvement is still there.


All the people involved in aviation that is pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers, flight controllers, mechanics, engineers, baggage handlers, ticket agents, airport managers, and accountants require specialized training. Training is the most important component of aviations systems working to reduce the possibility of errors and problems. Of all the people mentioned the training of pilots and aircrew, maintenance support staff, and flight controllers is of critical importance. Now there is a lot of demand on part of pilots, maintainers, and controllers in terms of the performance. Despite a number of advancements and resolution of a host of problems initially encountered by the pilots, the control of aircraft in flight still shows flying problem. A pilot is required to control the four dimensions of flight that is altitude (height above a point), attitude (position in the air), position (relative to a point in space), and time (normally a function of airspeed). Among these time is the most difficult to master. In order to master all these aspects proper flight time training is given to pilots. Engine controls, navigation, fuel controls, communications, airframe controls, and environmental controls are some of the other functions that pilots have to perform. There is…[continue]

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