Automation in Aviation: A Human Factors Perspective
René R. Amalberti Val de Grâce Military Hospital, Paris, and Institut de Médecine Aéronautique du Service de Santé des Armées (IMASSA), Brétigny-sur-Orge cedex, France
Aircraft automation is part of a vast movement to improve and control performance and risks in our so-called "advanced societies." Beyond the consequences for crews, automation is incorporated into the global evolution of these advanced societies as a tool providing people with more comfort and happiness, better performance, and fewer problems. But automation is also part of the aviation business and gives rise to permanent national and international competition between manufacturers. Inevitably accidents, incidents, and successes feed this competition and are overexploited by the press.
From a technical point of view, any new technology calls for a period of adaptation to eliminate residual problems and to allow users to adapt to it. This period can take several years, with successive cycles of optimization for design, training, and regulation. This was the case when jets replaced propeller planes. The introduction of aircraft like the B707 or the B727 were major events in aviation. These cycles are invariably fraught with difficulties of all types including accidents. People do not yet know how to optimize complex systems and reach the maximum safety level without field experience. The major reason for this long adaptive process is the need for harmonization between the new design on one hand and the policies, procedures, and moreover the mentalities of the whole aviation system on the other hand. This harmonization goes far beyond the first months or years following the introduction of the new system, both because of the superimposition of old and modern technologies during several years, and because of the natural reluctance of people and systems to change.
This is also true for the automation of cockpits. The current transition phase from classic aircraft to glass cockpits has been marked by a series of major pilot-error- induced incidents and accidents. Some of these human errors have been recognized as facilitated by technical drawbacks in the design, operation, and/or training of automated aircraft.
An important question for the aviation community is to determine what part of these identified design, operations, procedures, and training drawbacks would disappear with appropriate personnel training and regulation but without design change.