New study adds objective parameters to Stressed Aviation Safety Performance

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Acknowledging the human factor in air traffic control

Human Factors assessed to determine interaction with technology

neurophysiological Measurement Toolbox applicable to ATC

Could be used for other stressful aviation positions

Deep in article focused on recent ATC incidents (citing the LAS Controller incapacitated and the Partial Government Shutdown ) is a reference to a research study by Stefano Bonelli, a human factors expert working at Italian consultancy Deep Blue, called Human Performance neurometricS Toolbox foR highly automatEd Systems deSign [sic].

The airport article summarized the findings as follows:

“Funded by the Single European Sky ATM Research project, the recently concluded STRESS project was carried out to examine the impact of new technologies on controller performance. The project was carried out by a number of European partners and coordinated by Deep Blue.

‘Many of the ways of estimating the impact of a new tool on stress don’t always hit the mark.’

Concluded in 2018, the project had a number of outcomes, including ‘guidelines for the design of innovative technologies that are compatible with human capabilities and limitations.’ However, arguably the most important development of the project is a neurophysiological measurement toolbox, which can assess the impact of future ATC scenarios on controllers.

STRESS identified a number of relevant human factors, including attention, mental workload, and types of cognitive control on tasks. Using a number of air traffic controllers as test subjects, it collected data that was used to develop specific neurophysiological indicators (i.e. brain activity) for each of these factors. The next step of the project was to then measure neurophysiological signals given off by controllers while they participated in a simulated future ATC scenario.





Bonelli says that there are many of the ways of estimating the impact of a new tool on stress, but that these don’t always hit the mark. Questionnaires provided to controllers may be too subjective, whereas measuring the level of cortisol in the blood – another stress indicator – is too invasive.

Bonelli adds that if it were distilled into a more practical device, the STRESS technology could be used by ANSPs during demonstrations of new automation procedures. Controllers would be able to objectively show their employers whether new tools/procedures were, in fact, increasing their workload beyond a reasonable limit.

‘We spoke with a lot of controllers and they would like to have these kinds of tools because now organisations don’t trust them,’ Bonelli says.”

Bonelli says that feedback had generally been good for the project so far. One ‘extreme’ worry was that the tool could be used by ANSPs to determine whether or not an employee was too overwhelmed to carry on in their position. However, overall controllers saw it as a good tool for proving their point.

Next steps for the project will involve increasing the scope of the technology to measure not only stress and attention, but other factors such as fatigue and situational awareness.

This study has obvious relevance to the FAA’s hiring of the next generation of people who will sit at the NextGen positions which interface with aircraft.

FAA Recruits Future Employees without clear definition for NextGen jobs, without training and scheduling issues resolved

Critics fear that FAA’s new recruitment strategy will not produce adequate air traffic controllers

Who can Manage the NextGen flight traffic and How to Train them should be the Senate Hearing’s Focus, not the Past

IG’s Report on ATC Training Fails to note Evident Problem of Personnel Needs for NextGen

OIG Report recommends that FAA hire/train people who will function well managing NextGen Free Flight

The FAA and the NTSB have frequently expressed concerns about Human Factors in the Cockpit and/or Pilot/Machine Interface. The Bonelli assessment techniques would seem to relevant to examining those issues:

Australian Human Factors Study Demonstrates That More Cockpit Time Does Not Mean Better Safety Performance

The debate over the 1,500-hour pilot rule needs Quantitative Analysis not Subjective Judgment

Wichita State’s He to study controller cognitive processes to improve safety

Observations on the NTSB Most Wanted Lists: 2016, 2015 & 2014

Airbus announces a Response to the Pilot-Automation Interface Problems; it is a reactive solution; maybe there’s a proactive one

Academia contributes to Aviation Safety with studies about Pilot/Machine interface in Cockpit Automation

The Promise of Non-destructive Testing of Pilots’ Brains

NTSB’s Chair speech on airplane automation focuses on pilot & computer interaction on way to fully automated control

The cognitive skills of mechanics, flight attendants and all involved in safety could also use these neurometrics tools to better understand why and when focus is lost in aviation safety workplaces.

Rather than trying to summarize the Bonelli twenty-three page scholarly work, below are excerpts drawn from his study:

This is extraordinarily promising research which should add some objective measures to understanding human factors!!!













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