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Human Factors in Aviation Safety

Buy custom Human Factors in Aviation Safety essay

The need to reduce human errors in aviation industry has remained one of the major challenges to the stakeholders. Despite the enormous popularly of air transport, the number of accidents resulting from human failure has rapidly increased, thus leading to loss of life, property among other social evils. As a result, there has been the urgent need for humans to ensure efficiency and flexibility. It is clear that human factors significantly affect safety in aviation industry and there are numerous perspectives on nature as well as causes of human errors in the aviation sector. These includes psychosocial, cognitive and aeromedical perspectives among others. Although human errors in the aviation industry cannot be fully eliminated, there is the need for stakeholders to develop as well as implement policies that will ensure that these errors are reduced. Some of these include training, reducing organizational interference, raised supervision levels among others.

Human Factors in Aviation Safety


In the recent years, air transport has become one of the major modes of transport across the globe. This is attributable to the fact that air transport is a fast mode of transport as compared to others such as road and rail. Further, air transport is free from geographical constraints such as mountains, rivers, lakes among others. However, despite the enormous popularly as a fast and good means of transport, the number of accidents resulting from human failure has rapidly increased, thus leading to loss of life, property among other social evils. Wiegmann & Shappell (2009) indicate that, despite the many rapid gains in aviation technology, humans are the once ultimately responsible to ensure the overall safety and success in the aviation industry across the globe. As a result, there has been the urgent need for humans to ensure efficiency and flexibility. As argued by Wiegmann (2001), as air transport becomes highly reliable, humans have significantly played a significant casual role in majority of aviation accidents, a factor which has led to raised proliferation of accident investigation schemes and human error frameworks. Based on the above, majority of aviation firms are enormously investing in their personnel departments to effectively address this highly complex as well as nebulous issues resulting from human error. Based on the above factors, this paper will candidly examine of human factors, which affects aviation sector.

Human Factors

As indicated above, it is clear that human factors significantly affect safety in aviation industry. It is notable that, there are two cases on how human factors are attributed to aviation safety.  The first case is referred to some related readings that say that human factors affect aviation safety positively; they are contributing factors to making aviation safety possible.  Billings and Reynard (1984) suggested that in aviation, human factors are dedicated to have a better understanding on ways in which humans can safely as well as efficiently integrate with the technology. They insinuated that understanding human factors is then translated to design, training, policies or procedures that are aimed to help humans perform better.  However, it is only after the aircraft crews are ensured to be knowledgeable, flexible, dedicated and efficient that they become part of the improvement of the safety of air travel (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2009).

However, more readings addressed human factors to be one of the most crucial factors in not assuring a hundred percent safety in aviation.  To add, human factors were described by Billings and Reynard (1984) to be the last frontier in aviation safety. It was later found out that approximately 70 percent of commercial aircraft accidents were because of pilot error.  This can be justified with the idea that aircrafts are, in fact, controlled by humans who naturally commit inevitable mistakes.  The nature of human beings in itself jeopardizes the safety of the aircrafts they control. It has been documented that in recent years, many technologies have been developed.  However, these technologies, though they were effective instruments in improving aviation safety, they have not addressed the core human factors that lead to human errors and end up to aviation accidents. In fact, the technology can evolve faster than our ability to predict on how humans can interact with technologies.  This has led to the loss of much dependence on the experience and intuition to guide decision related to human performance.

Perspectives to Human errors

As indicated by Wiegmann & Shappell (2009), there are numerous perspectives on nature as well as causes of human errors in the aviation sector. However, within aviation sector, there are five notable perspectives to these errors. This includes cognitive, systems designs and ergonomics, aeromedical, organizational and psychological. 

Cognitive Perspective

This perspective indicates that, information progress in a several mental operations or stages such as pattern recognition, attention allocation and making of decision among others and the mental operations or stages mediate between response execution and stimulus input (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2009). Within this notable approach, human errors takes place when these types of mediating operations do not fully process information required.

System Design and Ergonomics Perspectives

As indicated by Wiegmann & Shappell (2009), the system perspective, human are rarely the sole causes of accidents or errors. Rather, the performance of human, whether good or bad, entails complex forms of interactions among several factors. System model significantly notes inseparable tie existing between tools, machines , individuals as well as the working environment.  According to SHEL model developed in 1988, there are four main components, which are crucial for the success of human and machine integration as well as systems designs. This includes:

  • Software such as regulations and rules, which governs operations
  • Hardware such as material, equipment or any other notable physical resources
  • Environmental conditions
  • Livewire; that is, the human

The diagram below indicates the relationship between these aspects.

Aeromedical Perspective

As argued by Wiegmann & Shappell (2009), in aeromedical approach, mistakes usually results by particular conditions underlying physiological conditions of all the aircrew like dehydration, hypoxia, spatial disorientation, fatigue among other aspects. These conditions normally results from jetlag, self-medication or illnesses.

Psychosocial Perspective

According to this perspective, operations on flights are viewed as social endeavors, which entail interactions among the pilots, ground crew, flight attendance, maintenance personnel among others. It is notable that, the performance of a pilot is highly influenced by quality or nature of interactions of all these group members.

Organizational Perspective

Organizational approach to errors of humans in the aviation sector uses various industrial settings as a result of emphasis, which is placed in aviation sector.


To have a clearer vision on how human factors are directly affecting aviation safety, two cases are cited below.  These cases have identified what human factors attributed to air accidents and pointed out remedies on preventive actions for future accidents.  One of the accidents, which is attributable to human errors is the one which took place in December 29, 2010. This incident involved flight 2253, a Boeing 757-200, N669AA belonging to American Airline and it ran off the departure end of the runway 19, thus landing in a deep snow soon after it landed at JAC (Jackson Hole Airport). In this incident, none of the occupant was injured and the plane sustained some minor damage. According to NTSA (The National Transportion Saftey Board) in the U.S.A., it was clear that one of the probable cause of this accident was manufacturing defects in the clutch mechanism. The clutch mechanism helps to prevent speedbrakes from deploying automatically after touchdown and the pilot to this craft significantly failed to manually extend as well as monitor these speed brakes.

Further, contributing to this was the flight Captain who failed to confirm the extension of speed brakes prior to announcing deployment and this distraction resulting from the failure of thrust reverses to first deploy prior to landing. The other took accident, which was a result of human errors is the one which took place on December 25, 1995 at Mt. El Deluvio, Cali, Columbia. A Boeing 757 of the American Airlines flight 965 crashed at the mountain.  The crashed killed 159 people including 8 crews.  After the crash, many speculations arose on how this modern airliner has traversed through the mountains given that all crews of the flight were experienced.  Prior to the crash, AA965 made a contact with Cali Approach.  They changed their approach from an Instrument Landing System onto Runway 01 to a non-precision VOR/DME approach onto Runway 19.  The sudden change of approach pushed the aircraft to a suddenly increasing pressure which left them crew unprepared.  This unpreparedness led to many errors until they crashed to the side of the mountain.  The errors analyzed in that crash involved of uncertainty in the crew’s positions, vagueness of flight path beacon and waypoint positions, difficulty in understanding the correct approach charts and the flight management computer programming problems (Wiegmann, & Shappell, 2009).

Minimizing Human Factors in Aviation Safety

As indicated in the two cases above, it is clear that human errors are causing an enormous loss in the aviation industry. As a result, there is the need for stakeholders to develop strategies, which will significantly reduce the errors. One of the aspects which can be employed in reducing this error is ADM (Aeronautical Decision Making). As argued by Wiegmann (2001), safe flying calls for effective integration of three notable sets of skills. ADM is thus a systematic approach to mental process employed by pilots to successfully determine best course of actions, which can be undertaken in response to a given situation (Wiegmann, 2001). ADM process highly address aspects off decision making that are undertaken in flight deck as well as indentifies steps involved in healthy making of decision by pilots. It is arguable that, while the process does not eliminate human errors, it significantly help pilots recognize errors; in turn manage it, thus minimizing the effects. The steps involved in ADM include:

  • Identification of personal attitudes as hazardous to safe flights
  • Learning behavioral modification techniques
  • Learning ways of recognizing as well as cope with stress
  • Developing skills which are crucial in risk assessments
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of individual ADM skills

By employing these skills, it becomes easy for pilots to reduce errors during flight, a factor that can highly raise the level of aviation safety.

Regulating Organizational Influences

Fallible decisions, which are undertaken by the upper-level management highly results to human errors during flight. Wiegmann (2001) indicates that, these decisions directly affect supervisory practices as well as actions and conditions of operators. However, in most instances the influence of an organization is usually   unreported or unnoticed even by some of the best-intentioned investors of accidents. These latent failures by organizations generally rotates around three main issues namely, resource management, organizational climate and operational process. Resource management indicates management, maintenance and allocation of aspects such as human resources (staffing, selection and training). Therefore, there is the need for organizations in aviation industry to look into those managerial aspects, thus reducing human errors in aviation industry.

Enhancing Supervision

As indicated by FAA Aircraft & Aviation Handbooks (n.d), in most cases aircrews are responsible for actions they undertake, thus must be held accountable at all times.

Adopting DECIDE Model

The other aspect which can be crucial in reducing human factors in aviation is the DECIDE model. This is a six step process, which is crucial in offering logical methods of approach while making decisions. The DECIDE model helps pilots in carrying out decisions, once faced with situational change requiring fast judgments (FAA Aircraft & Aviation Handbooks, n.d). This model is focuses on intellectual components, though it can have impacts on motivational components of a judgment as indicated on the figure below.


Although human errors in the aviation industry cannot be fully eliminated, there is the need for stakeholders to develop as well as  implement policies, which will ensure that these errors are reduced. Some of these include training, reducing organizational interference, raised supervision levels among others.

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