“Human factors” is one of the most frequently used phrases in air transport. The term first appeared in the field of medicine in the early 1900s to reduce human errors in operations. In the early days of aviation, the entire industry was focused on developing high-performance aircraft with efficient aerodynamic attributes and powerful engines. During World War II, the Royal Flying Corps discovered that 90 percent of total accidents were caused by pilot error rather than equipment malfunction. Pilots and maintenance personnel mentioned how they dealt with issues that occurred during operations. During the war, a massive quantity of data was gathered and shared with universities and research institutions for further study. This wave of awareness managed to improve an aircraft’s cockpit layout by reconfiguring switch position and control, displays and gauges, communication, and navigational systems.
Subsequently, the emergence of commercial aviation facilitated the improvement of an airplane’s overall design philosophy in comparison to associated human factors. Aside from aircraft, human factors data was collected, analyzed, and executed for flying operations, ground handling, maintenance workplaces, and manufacturing plants.
Why human factors are important in aviation?
A recent air crash that occurred on May 22, 2020, in Karachi, Pakistan involving an Airbus A320 operated by Pakistan International Airlines was a result of human factors combined with technical issues. The flight crew of PIA Flight 8303 ignored ATC warnings and attempted to initiate a go-around after touching engines on the ground, which is a nonstandard procedure. Human error has been identified as the primary cause of more than 70% of commercial airplane hull-loss accidents. Human error is frequently associated with flight operations, but it has previously appeared as a prominent concern in maintenance practices and air traffic management. To comprehend human performance HP, first, grasp the limitations of the human body.
Utilizing sensory receptors, the human body can detect five basic senses: vision, audition, olfaction, gustation, and tactition. Human eyes can only see a certain distance away, perceive a limited amount of light, and have blind spots. Similarly, human ears can only hear at a restricted frequency range of as low as 12 Hz and as greater as 28 kHz. This necessitates the use of artificially crafted sensors by humans to relate audio information beyond this limit. Furthermore, fatigue or stress significantly impairs human sensory and cognitive abilities. If there is a lack of attention, stress, a lack of motivation, or mood swings due to fatigue, the nervous system cannot comprehend information.
Commercial aircraft is an engineering marvel, a complex system of thousands of equipment must be in working condition at the right time and at the right place to maintain a stable flight.
How human factors are controlled in the aviation industry?
Aviation is one of the most highly regulated industries. Each country has aviation regulatory authorities that are overseen by the government and are in charge of enforcing and supervising aviation regulations in the country and airspace. These individual authorities are overseen by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which addresses safety threats by issuing effective regulations or recommendations. The ICAO Human Performance Manual Doc. 10151 provides a reference for regulators to follow as well as HF proficiencies for inspectors to reduce the impact of human factors in the global aviation system.
Organizations use different approaches, such as SMS, which is a top-down approach for monitoring and managing the risk of human error. It is designed based on the operational processes and organizational structure; for example, an MRO would have a more distinctive SMS than an SMS for flight operations.
The commercial aviation industry prioritizes safety over anything. Constant research and analysis aid in the periodic implementation of better safety strategies. Information is compiled from the global commercial and civil aviation markets, and this data is then used to address the root causes of an incident. Following that, new regulations and recommendations are shared with ICAO member countries and IATA member airlines in order to avoid comparable failures in the future. Accident causation models that are widely used, such as Reason’s Swiss Cheese model and the ICAO SHELL model, assist researchers and investigators in determining the root cause of a mishap so that it does not reappear in the future.
Current Implementation of Human Factors in The Commercial Aviation Industry
in the modern aviation industry regulatory bodies, manufacturers, and operators stay interconnected by using technology to interact, information gathering, and data processing. This practice enhances the effectiveness and quality of organizations, allowing them to provide exceptional services while maintaining the highest level of safety. A modern air traffic control system is highly automated, with high-tech satellites and ground-based navigation and tracking systems that require little human input, preventing the development of errors.
A sophisticated airliner’s digital aircraft systems dramatically reduce human input. Airliners are capable of self-landing, takeoff, cruising, and climbing. A contemporary airliner cockpit’s sophisticatedly designed alarms, switches, warning lights, sitting position, and ambiance assist in reducing the pilot’s contribution to accidents. There has been a wealth of research in recent years on unpiloted cockpits, where most of the processes will be governed by flight computers and physical inputs will be given by a robotic arm.
The goal is not to save money on pilots, but to avoid the restrictions and risks that come with human involvement in decision-making due to biological and situational factors. Aircraft will be monitored and controlled from ground bases to add an extra layer of security. Unpiloted commercial jetliners are still in the early stages of development, and there is a high risk of cyber attacks involved in this concept, but that is a separate discussion.