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…
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.
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:”
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.
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?!”
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”
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?”