Automation Technology and Human Performance: Current Research and Trends

By Mark W. Scerbo | Go to book overview
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skills. Automation may well reduce the effort of certain tasks and the stress associated with them, but may lead to loss of job satisfaction by taking away some of the intrinsic interests of the job, and the perceived 'control' over certain functions. It is widely accepted that the challenges of the ATCO's job are one of the main reasons that ATCOs enjoy their profession. Even working under difficult circumstances, sometimes with inadequate equipment and with high traffic levels, ATCOs may well perceive they are working very hard, possibly under great stress, but afterwards they will generally accept that they have achieved a great deal in dealing with a complex and busy situation and will find an element of satisfaction. A reduction of workload to the point that job satisfaction is reduced can lead to boredom and general discontent.


When undertaking their duties, ATCOs are generally fully aware of the responsibilities they carry. They continually check their own and other's work so that safety is not compromised. An ATCO is usually encouraged to be self-critical and to embrace self-analysis of their methods of operation. Because of the inherent safety factors that are associated with the task, ATCOs are trained to expect the unexpected. They are generally cautious with the data they handle. Pilots do not always do what is expected of them and ATCOs are continually forming alternative solutions to problems. The nature of the job requires an ATCO to be able to react quickly and calmly to 'unusual' events. Automation requires great confidence from the operator. Operators must be able to trust the data they are dealing with. With greater levels of automation, the more reliant the operator becomes in the system to provide accurate and trustworthy data. In any field of automation, the data-links must be fail-safe and totally accurate. Otherwise the operator will not trust the system and will feel -uncomfortable working with it. In the ATC world there can be no element of doubt in a controller's mind to the accuracy of the data being handled. Safety depends on it. The question of responsibility in automated systems needs to be looked at closely. If the controller is going to retain the 'control' function, then the responsibility remains with him, or her. It is no good at all suggesting that an error in the computer input is the reason for an airmiss, or that the data that the ATCO was using was corrupt or inaccurate. The legal implications of automated ATC systems need to be identified and responsibilities determined. ATCOs may hold the responsibility, at least in the legal sense, without retaining the means to exercise the responsibility that they possessed when the system was manual. The reliance that will be naturally placed on automated system should be balanced by alternative methods of handling the workload should the system fail and 'manual reversion' takes over. Does 'fail-safe' actually exist and should Air Traffic Services (ATS) authorities ensure that the manual type of ATC procedures are maintained to cope with failures of an automated system?


Automation is, in many instances, desirable and beneficial. In some cases it can be considered essential. Automation should only be introduced when there is a full awareness of all the associated Human Factor implications. Automation sometimes brings extra tasks, as well as benefits, and many functions cannot be automated entirely. Automated aids should also be trustworthy.

When automation is extended to problem solving and decision making, it affects job satisfaction and the exercise of skills and responsibilities. Computer assistance can alter the nature of the task and new information is of no use unless it is presented in an easily understandable form. There are no equivalents of job satisfaction, stress, status, morale or professional pride in machines.

A fall back system of ATC skills should be maintained, despite the ability to do away completely with some aspects of the ATC task Automation carries implications, both real and perceived, of status and responsibility. As automation evolves, certain automated functions in the system become relatively fixed and inflexible. This reduces the ability of the controller to implement different strategies to solve individual


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Automation Technology and Human Performance: Current Research and Trends
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