Flight Safety If you knew that today was the day an accident would occur you probably wouldn’t even bother getting out of bed. Since this is never the case and a lapse in awareness can be deadly, situational awareness (SA) is your best defense against unforeseen accidents. The following is a brief discussion of what causes loss of SA and some hints to avoid these pitfalls. From the very first flight lesson, navigation is taught as your highest priority as a pilot. Communication, sightseeing and all other tasks involved in flight are taught to be subordinate to this.
Keeping awareness of your current situation and anticipating what will or could happen in the near future is a time consuming task but critical to your survival. Monitoring is critical to your survival and focus is an area where it is exceptionally easy to become distracted by a single input and lose awareness of your surroundings. Unfortunately, humans have limits to how much we can see and hear at the same time. If we had to put our monitoring goal into one rule, it would be: Be aware of what you need to and ignore everything else. That’s very easy to say and probably impossible to do.
While it may sometime become necessary to tune out distractions and devote your attention to a single event, you must never concentrate solely on one thing and ignore everything else for long. Focus on a broad region — keep the big picture Focus on a narrow region — pay attention to detail Focus on the right information — don’t get sidetracked or distracted Once you are properly focused you must properly evaluate what your senses are telling you. Comprehension is key to evaluation, once you interpret and comprehend what is happening you must assess the importance of all inputs and prioritize them accordingly. Once you accomplish this you now are aware of your current situation. Anticipation is key to maintaining situational awareness for future projection. You must use all information available and project multiple eventualities to prepare for any events that may occur in the future.
Normally this is a fairly simple predictable process and is a lifesaver in tasking situations. You must consider future contingencies as well and these may save your life. Events such as emergencies, equipment failures, and unplanned maneuvers by other aircraft are examples of useful projections. Thinking through the ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, and ‘who’ of a potential unexpected occurrence may be just enough prior planning to make the difference between success and failure. Finally have a plan. All of the SA and future projections in the world are useless unless you consider alternatives in advance and at least mentally implement them to judge their effectiveness. No matter how much you focus, evaluate and, plan many other variable will compete for your attention.
Here are some traps that may try to steal your SA and ways to avoid them. Focus on the right Information at the right time. A lapse in judgment can occur at any time to anyone. Keep your priorities straight. If flying watch your altimeter lest the ground come up and smite thee.
If on the ground, pay attention to street signs and right of way indicators. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. The human senses though limited, present you with enormous amounts of information. After through observation and planning you may think everything is going well but can’t shake the nagging feeling something is out of place, listen! It may mean the difference between life and death. Missing an approach or being late for dinner is a small price to pay for ensuring you and passengers eventually arrive safely at the intended destination. Be wary of both task saturation and boredom.
Studies show that boredom is at least as likely to cause lapses in judgment as task saturation if not more so. Human nature is such that unchallenging situations quickly invoke boredom and a loss of focus. Always realize this and ensure you are vigilant. Habits can be good and bad. Training is a major part of a pilot’s daily routine. Some tasks or performance levels may actually increase likelihood of error in an emergency or other task saturating situation simply due to the required response.
Add a cross check to ensure the procedure you are following is applicable to the situation. Preconceived notions and expectations may reduce your assessment of a situation. This occurs in conjunction with anticipation and while an integral part of your decision process don’t fall into the trap of believing that because a certain response is designed to alleviate an in-flight problem that it will actually be successful. Continue to assess your current situation and react according to what is happening not what is expected. This also occurs during the listening process.
Don’t believe something that was said because you expect it, Listen! The longer something takes it is less likely to be completed without error. As humans we do not perform mundane tasks exceptionally well. Boredom and distraction are continues foes that we must strive to overcome. Recognize this and pay extra attention to longer tasks or if distracted force your attention back to ongoing events to ensure they are proceeding according to plan. Reliable systems aren’t always reliable. Airplanes are more reliable now than anytime in history. Automation and technological improvements have made flying safer and less complex than ever before. Just because a system is designed to control some aspect of flight and backup systems are available don’t believe it will be totally reliable 100 percent of the time.
The one time you assume it works correctly will be the time it fails and you fail to notice. Distractions come in many forms. Aircraft are complex equipment systems and the environment they operate in is very dynamic. Here is a compilation of reports from 1978 and typical distractions during a flight. Type of Distraction Number of Reports Non operational activities Paperwork Public address Conversation Flight attendant Company radio 7 12 9 11 16 Flight Tasks ChecklistMalfunctionsTraffic watchATC communicationsRadar monitoringStudying approach chartLooking for airportNew first officerFatigueMiscellaneous Total 22 19 16 6 12 14 3 10 10 2 169 Now that you’re scared witless, here are some tips to improve your SA and make flying a safer and more enjoyable experience. focus attention on details while keeping the big picture anticipate, stay ahead of the airplane consider contingencies, have a plan for the ‘what if situations have a plan for handling distractions, especially malfunctions use all available resources for awareness And by the way, have a safe flight.
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