Thursday, August 18, 2011

Air traffic overhaul hinges on 'human factor'

CNN Website on 10 March 2011 by Thom Patterson

"Even amid the amazing technological achievements and wondrous capabilities of the 21st century, the most critical connection in the airline industry remains the same as it was at the birth of aviation: the human touch."

According to the article the role of the human factors engineer "is to ensure that information is being presented at the right time to a pilot and in the right form so that the human cognitive capabilities are not simply overwhelmed." In particular "What should you put in front of a pilot and in what form should that information be?"

Referring to new air traffic control technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) that allows pilots to see a real-time cockpit display that shows the locations of their aircraft and any surrounding aircraft. The challenge is to keep the human in the loop. The plan calls for pilots and air traffic controllers to share more information -- allowing them to better collaborate in avoiding mistakes. They have proven that the human remains in charge and pulls the whole system together, but it requires a rethink in the way information is processed and used.

Another system being developed is a very sophisticated kind of "text message." The aim is to cut confusion caused by misunderstood voice radio transmissions and to improve efficiency by "texting" routine information. Obviously, it is important to make sure this doesn't cause distraction. A lot of messages will be pre-programmed and sent by pilots with the touch of a single button.

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