Weatherwise: Evaluation of a Cue-Based Training Approach for the Recognition of Deteriorating Weather Conditions during Flight

By Wiggins, Mark; O'Hare, David | Human Factors, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Weatherwise: Evaluation of a Cue-Based Training Approach for the Recognition of Deteriorating Weather Conditions during Flight


Wiggins, Mark, O'Hare, David, Human Factors


INTRODUCTION

Continued visual flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) remains one of the most significant causes of fatalities in the U.S. general aviation industry. Between 1983 and 1992, accidents related to visual flight rules (VFR) flight into IMC constituted 9.8% of the total number of weather-related general aviation accidents in the United States but accounted for 27% of the fatalities that occurred in this period (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, 1996).

Aircraft accidents involving VFR flight into IMC tend to be associated with pilots who are authorized to fly solely within visual meteorological conditions (VMC). A typical accident scenario involves the continuation of a flight toward deteriorating weather conditions such that visual reference to the terrain is lost. The pilot is subsequently forced to rely on instruments to maintain control of the aircraft, a task that is particularly difficult in the absence of appropriate training and experience. The result of the loss of reference to the terrain is that the pilot loses control of the aircraft, typically within 3 min of entry into IMC (Bryan, Stonecipher, & Aron, 1955).

In attempting to establish the psychological basis for the decision by a visual pilot to continue a flight into IMC, two approaches have been investigated. The first of these is based on the assumption that visual pilots persist in flying into IMC because of a misplaced motivation to continue the flight. This approach is encapsulated within the hazardous thoughts training program, in which pilots are taught to recognize and respond to the onset of inappropriate motivators (Buch & Diehl, 1984).

Although the motivational approach has achieved some limited success within the operational environment (Harris, 1994), evidence suggests that some pilots may lack the skills necessary to recognize and respond to deteriorating weather conditions during flight. Evidence to support the skills-based approach can be derived from both anecdotal and empirical research suggesting that individual differences among pilots exist in their capacity to recognize and respond appropriately to deteriorating weather conditions (Goh & Wiegmann, 2001; Stokes, Kemper, & Marsh, 1992; Wiegmann, Goh, & O'Hare, 2002; Wiggins & O'Hare, 1995). These differences tend to be a function of operational experience, to the extent that experts outperform novices in the capacity to acquire information pertaining to weather-related decisions (Rockwell & McCoy, 1988; Wiggins, Connan, & Morris, 1996; Wiggins & O'Hare, 1995).

One of the most significant issues in pilots' responses to deteriorating weather conditions during flight may involve the initial decision to divert from a planned operation. For example, the crash of a Cessna 152 in the South Island of New Zealand in 1992 appeared to be attributable to a failure to make a decision to divert, rather than to a deliberate decision to continue the flight into IMC (Transport Accident Investigation Commission, 1992). The apparent failure to actively engage in a decision-making process suggests that the pilot may have been unable to recognize and respond, in a timely manner, to the significance of the cues available during the flight. The result was a loss of control of the aircraft and a subsequent collision with terrain.

The aim of the present study was to investigate the extent to which pilots can be taught to recognize and respond appropriately to the cues associated with a deterioration in weather conditions during visual flight.

Cue-Based Training

The importance of cues in decision making has been well established in a number of domains, including firefighting (Klein, 1998), in-flight weather-related decision making (Stokes et al., 1992), chess (de Groot, 1966), and finance (Hershey, Walsh, Read, & Chulef, 1990). Generally these cues are employed both to establish the requirement for an intervention and to assist in the decision-making process by providing guidance as to the most appropriate strategy to be employed (Gaba, Howard, & Small, 1995). …

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