Lloyd Hitchcock Hitchcock and Associates, Inc.
The determination of pilot performance and the efforts to maximize it are central to aviation safety. It is generally conceded that two out of three aviation accidents are attributable to inappropriate responses of the pilot or crew. Although the catch phrase "pilot error" is all too often laid on the pilot who is guilty only of making a predictable response to "mistakes waiting to happen" that are intrinsic to the design of his cockpit controls or displays or to the work environment surrounding him (or her), there is no question that the greatest improvement in flight safety can be achieved by eliminating the adverse elements of the human component in the aircraft system. Although the most important contributor to aviation safety, the pilot is also the most complicated, variable, and least understood of the aviation "subsystems." Pilot performance has been shown to be affected by everything from eating habits to emotional stress, both past and present. Scheduling decisions can disrupt the pilots' sleep and rest cycles and impose the requirement for pilots to execute the most demanding phase of flight at the point of their maximum fatigue. Illness and medication can degrade performance markedly, as can the use of alcohol and tobacco. Although a complete exposition of all the factors that serve to determine or delimit pilot performance is all but impossible within the constraints of a single text, it is hoped that the following will at least sensitize the reader to many of the variables that have impact on the skill and ability of the commercial and general aviation pilot.
Before the role played by any factor in determining pilot behavior can be objectively assessed, we must first be able to quantitatively measure the performance within the cockpit environment. In aviation's infancy, the determination of pilot performance was simple and direct: Those who flew and survived were considered adequate aviators. Since that time, the increased complexity and demands of the airborne environment