Handbook of Aviation Human Factors

By Daniel J. Garland; John A. Wise et al. | Go to book overview
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adapt design processes of future air traffic control systems to incorporate evidence from research? (p. 555)

At present, there are no appreciable answers to these provocative questions.

For several decades, an implicit philosophy of automation has existed that adopted the assumption that maximum available automation is always appropriate (invest in hardware, not people). This philosophy has been based, in part, on the availability of increasingly sophisticated and advanced technological innovations, the need to reduce human workload, the need for increased safety of flight, and perhaps, primarily, on the assumption that the human mind (especially human memory) is similar to a silicon-based system that cannot be easily overloaded. Although automated systems have provided substantial benefits, several human factors consequences have arisen and incidents / accidents have occurred. These problems often end up by calling for human factors professionals and the aviation community to reexamine automation practices. We continue to automate without building the human factor into the design process.

There is an increasing awareness of the lack of a scientifically based philosophy of automation. This philosophy must be based in an understanding of the relative capabilities (e.g., frailties of working memory) of the controller in the system, and the circumstances under which automation should assist and augment the capabilities of the controller. What is needed is an approach that has a better philosophical base for what automation seeks to achieve and a more human-centered approach, to avoid the most adverse human factors consequences of automated systems and provide a better planned progressive introduction of automated aids in step with user needs (e.g., Garland, 1991). Such a comprehensive, scientifically based design philosophy for human-centered automation must be developed in order to avoid inevitable "one step forward and two steps backward" progression.

For the time being, the human controller, despite the limitations and constraints of the working memory system, will remain an essential part of the ATC system. Furthermore, it is suggested that with ever-increasing levels of ATC automation, the significance of the human controller in the system and the significance of the controller's working memory system should no longer be taken for granted.

In conclusion, the purpose, intent, and nature of this chapter are perhaps best reflected in ideas Levesley ( 1991) put forth about the way he sees the ATC system in 50 years. Levesley commented:

What I actually predict will happen is that the lessons of the last fifty years will be repeated in the next fifty. Airlines will still prefer to spend $500 on aircraft for every $1 spent on ATC. Will the cost of potential super-systems actually prohibit their introduction, as they prove totally cost-ineffective? If I survive to the age of 93 and I fly somewhere in 2040, I suspect that there will still be a human problem solver on the ground in control of my flight, who will rejoice in the title of "the controller." And I don't think that controllers will be there because they are irreplaceable, or because the public wants someone there. I think that, with the right tools to help, the controller will still be there as the most cost effective, flexible system solution to the problem of safely guiding pilots and passengers to their destination. And that is what air traffic control is really all about. (p. 539)


Adams J. A. ( 1989). Human factors engineering. New York: Macmillan.

Akin O. ( 1982). The psychology of architectural design. London: Pion.


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