It was early evening on the 24th September 2022 when an offshore AW139 helicopter inbound to Houma-Terrebonne Airport in Louisiana, USA, declared a mayday. A lot had already happened in the cockpit by the time the co-pilot hit the press to transmit…
We take a look at Normal Accident theory in the light of a recent accident: Technology is both a risk control and a hazard itself. The act of adding technology is at best risk neutral. Continually adding more technology in the belief that we are adding more layers of defence in a system is flawed because we are in fact adding more combinations of possible failure modes. In other words, there is a direct trade- off between increasing safety by adding in more controls, and decreasing safety by adding complexity.
“For no other vehicle is the need for human factors research more critical, or more difficult.” Sandra G. Hart.
That’s a bold assertion that I had never heard anyone make before and consequently had never given much consideration to whether or not it might be the case. So let’s unpack that proposition a little by looking at the arguments that the author offers to back it up…
How much does an aviator’s own cultural identification with safety have a role in contributing to safety outcomes? Certain professions have strong and distinctive professional cultures. Aviation is one of these. Does a belief in a deep-rooted safety culture underpin how aviators identify as professionals?
How progress in head-mounted display technology could revolutionise critical helicopter missions. Envision a world in which emergency aircraft and their crews can launch in response to medical and other critical missions in almost any flight conditions imaginable. E-VFR (Electronic-VFR) speaks of this future thanks to electronically augmented visual flight which gives a sufficiently enhanced viewContinue reading “Towards E-VFR flight: The dawn of mixed reality in the rotary wing cockpit? “
Human exploits in aviation have always been closely linked to our fascination for speed. We admire speed in its many guises and it remains a marker of achievement in almost any field you care to think of. In aviation, just as in many other walks of life, we often assume the faster the better. We associate speed with competence. But what if we could disassociate the idea of slowness with incompetence? What if instructors were made to teach the opposite? What if we came to associate a slow response with higher skill levels and greater professionalism?
What should startle and surprise training mean in an applied sense and how should we be approaching it? Do the differences between airline transport flight profiles and helicopter operations mean that we should be looking critically at how to approach the startle and surprise from a rotary wing perspective? Is it as significant a hazard in the low level, high workload, high obstacle environment in which helicopter crews spend much of their time?
Also published in AirMed&Rescue, Nov 2021 edition.
Automation reduces workload, frees attentional resources to focus on other tasks, and is capable of flying the aircraft more accurately than any of us. It is simultaneously a terrible master that exposes many human limitations and appeals to many human weaknesses. As we have bid to reduce crew workload across many different tasks and increase situational awareness with tools including GPS navigation on moving maps, synthetic terrain displays, and ground proximity warning systems, we have also opened a Pandora’s Box of human factors to bring us back down to the ground with a bump. Sometimes literally.
Pretty much everyone in aviation is familiar with the concept of situation awareness. But as research interest in SA grew, the concept expanded from the individual level to how SA might apply in the context of larger and more complex systems. What does distributed SA actually mean? The idea is that SA is held by both human and non-human agents. Myriad technological artefacts within a system also hold some form of SA. Now if, like me, you initially struggle with the idea that an artefact (such as a radio, or altimeter) can have ‘awareness’, then bear with me…
Applying the 3Hs to decision-making during helicopter hoist operations. On the 29 April 2020 at Biscarosse near Bordeaux in France, two crew members of a French Air Force H225 fell to their deaths when a hoist cable parted during a winch training exercise. (Summary report in English from Aerossurance.) The tragic outcome coupled with theContinue reading “Helicopter Hoisting and the Human in the system:”
The importance of an effective lookout. We’ve heard it from day one in aviation, a constant through our flying training days and beyond. The dangers of mid-air collision, obstacles, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) will always be there. These are not static threats however, but are always evolving. Take the proliferation of drones asContinue reading “On Lookout and helicopters”
Separating the quality of a decision from the quality of the processes which lead to a decision being made sounds like it should be straight-forward, but it isn’t. This is especially true if we judge a decision to be a bad one, or a wrong one, when our negative perception of the choice can easily overwhelm what could have been a perfectly acceptable, collaborative, and well-communicated thought process.
The distinction between the quality of the decision-making process and the decision itself is an important one to make in the context of training for competency because although we won’t always make the right, or the best, decisions in any given situation, the ability to develop and improve our decision-making processes, is what competency-based training is all about.
What Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman can teach us about why taking the hardest decisions of them all is so hard. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow Nobel Prize winning economist and thinker Daniel Kahneman introduces us to many fascinating insights into the human decision-making process. Loss Aversion is one of these. He beginsContinue reading “AERONAUTICAL DECISION-MAKING AND LOSS AVERSION:”
Last week was a CRM week. I was immersed in a Crew Resource Management course for aspiring facilitators with three full days dedicated to talking, listening, and learning about flying, human factors, and facilitation. Learning from the experiences of others is a lot of what human factors training is about. You don’t do that withoutContinue reading “Don’t neglect your CRM: The value of telling stories”
From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean: The Weather. Learning to adjust. And just learning. On moving to Valencia last year to try my hand at flying a Search and Rescue helicopter in Spain, the predominantly anti-cyclonic picture of Spain’s Mediterranean-facing east coast presented an entirely new meteorological situation to me. “SAR in the sunshine, what’sContinue reading “Flying SAR in the sunshine: What’s not to like?!”
Now seems like a good time to look beyond the dark prism of the current COVID-induced crisis in aviation to consider a future beyond the mire. The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF) recently published a White Paper called “The Human Dimension in Tomorrow’s Aviation System”. It’s made up of a series ofContinue reading “Is Human Factors in aviation at a crossroads?”
Cognitive Readiness in Search and Rescue operations: What is it? Do you have it? How do you get it? There’s a problem with training to learn to deal with the unexpected: we simply don’t know in advance what the objectives of any training or instruction should be. If you haven’t come across it already, CognitiveContinue reading “Can you learn to deal with the unexpected & unpredictable?”
What former US Navy Captain and leadership guru David Marquet can teach us about managing power gradient. The premise of David Marquet’s book Leadership is Language, (For more on Marquet click to his website) is that the deliberate and self aware choice of language in how we communicate within teams can transform the way we communicateContinue reading “Flattening the gradient”
Coping with confinement and COVID-19 induced stress. What is the link between a chimp and a helicopter?… apart from the fact that every instructor you ever had told you that any monkey can be taught to fly one! In his best-selling book The Chimp Paradox, Professor Steve Peters (click for further information) describes a sevenContinue reading “The Chimp, the Virus, and the Helicopter:”
The Structured Debrief During my time in the military a debrief often began with the question, “Any flight safety points?” A closed question. A question that invites a no. It was meant to show the primacy of flight safety in what we were doing. What it actually did was immediately put people on the spotContinue reading “The Structured Debrief: The Big 7”
El empleo del ‘debriefing’ como herramienta de entrenamiento para los profesionales aeronáuticos es la manera más eficaz para aprender, hablar de la toma de decisiones, adquirir/revisar habilidades técnicas y mejorar el trabajo en equipo. Effective debriefing as a training tool for aviation professionals is the most effective way to learn, to talk about decision-making, toContinue reading “Debrief to learn: El debriefing para aprender”
Something over two years ago I decided I would throw my hand in at applying to be a CRM Trainer and Human Factors Facilitator. CRM had never really been my thing. My experience of Human Factors/CRM training up to that point was that ‘facilitators’ tend to be either evangelical to the extent that their fervourContinue reading “What delivering two years of CRM training has taught me.”
Human Decision-making: Extracts from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner for his work, first became famous for his article Judgement under uncertainty (1974) Heuristics and Biases. The Article was produced from research funded by US Department of Defense and Office of Naval Research. He expanded this into a bookContinue reading “A machine for jumping to conclusions:”
Training Monitoring for Helicopter Technical Crew (Part 2) The response to my last post underlined how little technical or non-technical material out there is written with the niche skill-set of the helicopter technical crew community in mind. There is certainly an interest and appetite for its consumption among those who play a part in thisContinue reading ““PF & CM:” Pilot Flying & Crewman Monitoring”
I have been asked to deliver training on Monitoring to Technical Crew as part of a bespoke course to qualify them to assist single-pilot operations from the front seat. After considering how to approach the session and content I have been left asking more questions than I started with. Being a fan of simplicity, IContinue reading “Training Monitoring for Helicopter Technical Crew”
Let’s start by unravelling that jumble of acronyms: EBT – Evidence Based Training ATPQ – Alternative Training and Qualification Programme CRM – Crew (Cockpit) (Complete) Resource Management What is Evidence Based Training? EBT is a shift in philosophy away from traditional, prescriptive training and checking methods in which, for example, you repeat the setContinue reading “EBT & ATQP…What now for CRM?”
Memory and meaning I cdnuol’t blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aocdcrnig to rscheearch at Cmadrigbe Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht odrer the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt thnig is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghitContinue reading “Human perception & the mental model”
Texting & Flying: Pilot distraction & the myth of multi-tasking. On August 26, 2011, at about 6:41 pm CDT, a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter operated by Air Methods on an EMS mission crashed following a loss of engine power as a result of fuel exhaustion a mile from an airport in Mosby, Missouri. The pilot,Continue reading “TEXTING AND FLYING?”