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Effect of Automation on Situational Awareness in Flight OperationsResearch Paper

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¶ … automation on situational awareness in multi-crew air carrier flight operations. The article begins with a discussion of the concept of situational awareness with regards to its link to operational functions, especially in the aviation industry. This is followed by an analysis of automation of flight operations in light of the use of information technologies in enhancing the safety and efficiency of flight operations. After an analysis of automation of flight operations, the author evaluates the effects of automation on flight operations. The analysis of the effects focuses on both the positive and negative effects of automation on situational awareness. The paper concludes with an analysis of the positive and negative effects of the use of automation and information technologies on situational awareness.

The Impact of Automation on Situational Awareness Multi-Crew Air Carrier Flight Operations

The aviation industry has been characterized by constant search or pursuit for innovations to improve the efficiency and safety of flights. The search has contributed to various implementations that have been established to help the pilot and ease his/her job. One of the major innovations that have been implemented to help ease the pilot's work is automation of certain processes. Before the concept and use of automation, pilots largely depended on paper charts and flight calculators to navigate through the skies. During this period, pilots had to consistently check and re-check to ensure the aircraft was functioning as anticipated and on course. The rapid technological advancements contributed to the development and implementation of automation in order to enhance the operations, safety, and efficiency of flight operations. Automation not only eliminated the charts and calculations but also helped in enhancing pilots' situational awareness. However, there are concerns on the impact of automation on situational awareness, especially in flight operations with multi-crew.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is basically defined as understanding what is taking place around you and understanding the present and future significance of that information (Endsley & Jones, 2004, p.13). Awareness is a concept that is always described on the basis of important information for a specific job or objective. Moreover, the idea of situational awareness is always applicable to operational situations where the respective individual must have understanding of certain operations in a given situation. Therefore, the actual definition of situational awareness is the sensitivity of environmental elements within a specific time and space, the understanding of the meaning of these elements, and prediction of their status in the foreseeable future (Endsley & Jones, 2004, p.13).

Situational awareness is a term that emerged from military pilot sector where reaching high levels of situation awareness was identified as a critical and challenging factor in the early history of the aviation industry. Apart from the military pilot segments, the concept is important in the world of air traffic controllers since it is a mental representation of current environmental factors through which pilots make their decisions. Given its significance in decision making, situational awareness has attracted huge attention in the aviation industry. The focus on situational awareness is fueled by the fact that it plays a vital role in the operations, safety, and efficiency of flight operations.

Automation of Flight Operations

As previously mentioned, the aviation industry has been characterized by increased pursuit of innovations to enhance the safety and efficiency of flight operations. The search has culminated in the implementation of various innovations such as automation of certain operations to help the pilot and make his/her work easier. Automation can primarily be described as the use of information technologies and control systems to lessen the need of for human intervention across various operations. The introduction of automation in the aviation industry has mainly focused on lessening human intervention in air traffic and flight control operations. Automation not only enhances the completion of a job but also significantly affects the pilot or other aviation professionals through shifting their tasks from operator to observer.

One of the recent efforts towards automation of flight operations is the implementation of new technologies into the cockpit resulting in cockpit automation. Cockpit automation has in turn changed the nature of the pilot's role on the flight deck to an extent that these professionals have become system managers who evaluate systems and intervene when there is need for changes or in the event of an unexpected situation or incident (Sarter & Woods, 1992, p.304). The use of automation technologies in the cockpit has involved the introduction of cathode ray tubes screens that promote concise presentation of information and enhanced map displays. Aircraft computerization and cockpit automation is current used in multi-crew air carrier flight operations.

The second outcome of the use of automation technologies in the aviation industry is the implementation of Global Positioning System, which made navigation considerably easier. Actually, the International Civil Aviation Organization has developed and implemented Global Navigation Satellite Systems to identify all satellite traversing systems through which aircraft crew conducts onboard position determination based on satellite information (Civil Aviation Advisory Publication, 2006). The use of Global Positioning Systems in navigation of flights is influenced by the fact that they contain three distinct operational elements i.e. aircraft-based user, space, and ground-based control elements. The systems also function based on the ranging and triangulation of a group of satellites that act as succinct reference points. Similar to cockpit automation, the use of Global Positioning Systems has had considerable effects on the role of pilots and other crew in flight operations in light of their situational awareness. Generally, the Global Positioning Systems have enhanced the efficiency of flight operations through making navigation easier.

Effect of Automation

Despite the numerous benefits of automation with regards to improved efficiency of flight operations, there have been numerous concerns on whether automation causes more harm than harm on situational awareness in multi-crew air carrier flight operations. These concerns have been attributed to the impact and potential effects of automation on the performance of aircraft crew. Moreover, the growing concerns have been attributed to the little known nature and root causes of problems that emerge in the interaction between aircraft crew and automation. There are positive and negative effects of automation on situational awareness in multi-crew air carrier flight operations with regards to recent incidents and trends in the aviation industry.

Positive Impact on Automation on Situational Awareness

One of the positive impacts of automation on situational awareness is enhanced flight operations, safety, and efficiency. Automation has contributed to this benefit through eliminating the time-consuming charts and calculations that aircraft crew relied on before the adaption on information technologies in the aviation industry. As a result of automation, pilots and other aircraft crew no longer need to depend checking and re-checking of charts and performing calculations to ensure the aircraft is functioning as expected and stays on course. The enhanced flight operations are brought by cockpit automation and the use of Global Positioning Systems to navigate. In addition, automation results in improved situational awareness in multi-crew aircraft operations since the use of computerized control systems increases reliability and efficiency.

Secondly, automation has enhanced situational awareness by lessening human errors that are usually fueled by technical issues in design, functioning, and training. Automation or computerized control enhances situational awareness through changing the nature of the human task in flight operations and providing many control alternatives (Wiener & Nagel, 1988). For instance, automation has changed the role of pilots from operators to onlookers who play a supervisory control role rather than direct control. Unlike in direct control where a command or instruction is sent directly to the machine without computer intervention, supervisory control involves sending a human command to a computer. The computer then processes the human command through programmed intelligence and software to determine the final command to the flight operation. As a result, aircraft crew only intervene when changes are needed or in the event of an unexpected situation. This enhances situational awareness by lessening the tasks of aircraft crew and limiting human intervention in flight operation.

Third, automation has contributed to positive impacts on situational awareness in multi-crew air carrier flight operations by lessening the tasks of aircraft crew while improving communication and collaboration between them. The reduced tasks are attributed to the fact that automation changes their role from direct control to relatively management or evaluation role. Human intervention is only required when some changes should be made or an unprecedented incident occurs. Moreover, automation has improved communication between aircraft crew, which enables them to analysis environmental or operational conditions effectively before issuing commands to the system. The improved communication helps to ensure coordinated assessment of situations by aircraft crew before commands are issued to the flight system to determine its operation.

The improved communication between aircraft crew is brought by the increased development and use of crew resource management programs that are regarded as vital means of improved teamwork (Endsley, 1999, p.271). Based on the findings of a survey, crew management resource programs enhances situational awareness by directly enhancing individual situational awareness, contributing to the development of shared mental models among aircraft… [END OF PREVIEW]

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