NTSB Program raises Questions about the Ergonomics of High Tech Cockpit

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ARTICLE: Autopilot isn’t enough: experts call for new pilot training standards to prevent crashes


In the 1980s United Airlines observed that some of the behavior in the cockpit was entirely too deferential; the pilot-in-command neither solicited nor often accepted feedback from the second-in-command. The company designed and implemented a training program called Cockpit Resource Management, the goal of which was to have the pilots function more as a team and less hierarchically.

NTSB Member Sumwalt has advocated that the understanding of pilots’ roles must be taken to a higher level and his Board created a working group — the Active Pilot Monitoring Workshop. This is state-of-the-art thinking on this complex ergonomics issue.

The NTSB initiative has established that basic functions of the person sitting in the right hand and left hand seats are being assessed more analytically—one flies the plane and the other monitors all of the aircraft’s systems. The inquiry has asked important initial questions, like whether the concept of cross checks– using the data available in all of the instruments to inquire about the flying– should create an acceptable vocabulary for the monitor to ask a challenging question without disturbing the cockpit karma. Equally, while manipulating the controls, is it appropriate for the flyer to inquire from the monitor whether the information available about the aircraft performance confirms what the PIC senses is right/wrong.

This NTSB program should lead to a total reexamination of the ergonomics of the high technology cockpit impact on the crew. Does this new man/machine interface redefine the job task analysis for the professionals who occupy this critical space on an aircraft? Thoughtful academic research might explore whether some pilots are better suited to “fly the airplane” while others have greater competence to monitor the instruments. Another inquiry might assess what communications ought to precede the two professionals’ exercise of the privileges of the cockpit; for example, what should be said if neither pilot is good at monitoring. The range of useful study of the relationship between the PIC and the SIC in today’s cockpit is very great and merits more study.

What is the most effective method to develop this new avenue of cockpit resource analysis? With sequestration and the lengthy process of government contracting, the FAA might require considerable time to get the results. The private sector (trade associations, unions, safety think tanks and academia) might be able to obtain useful information in the shortest time.

It is reassuring to see that industry is already taking the initiative and exploring the dimensions of monitoring.

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1 Comment on "NTSB Program raises Questions about the Ergonomics of High Tech Cockpit"

  1. Very interesting study and article. Thank you for linking the PowerPoint. Is there somewhere I can read more? Surely there is more data now because this was posted in 2013 and it is now 2019…

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