Human Factors Generations

The first, second and third aviation human factors generations represent a shift from individual pilot performance to team (crew) performance to organisational performance. This reflects a move from an individual to collective human factors focus that is still developing (Amalberti, Paries, Valot & Wibaux, 19981). However, the fourth human factors generation represents a revival of the ideas found in the first generation of 'classic' human factors suggesting an important shift in aircraft or aviation systems design (Amalberti et al., 19981).

First Generation - 1940s onwards

  • Addressed and continues to address pilot-cockpit physical and perceptual interaction, often termed the human-machine or liveware-hardware interface (Amalberti et al., 19981).
  • Most commonly associated with human-aircraft interface design.
  • Human capabilities and limitations are identified and translated into design norms. Consequently, these norms are implemented by design engineers (Amalberti et al., 19981).

Second Generation - 1980s onwards

  • Focus is largely placed on the internal interactions of crews/teams at the liveware-liveware interface but also includes external interactions of teams with their environments to achieve safe and efficient operations (Amalberti et al., 19981).
  • Crew Resource Management (CRM) has been the starting point for flight crew training in human factors and was originally termed Cockpit Resource Management. However CRM training quickly became an airline industry requirement worldwide, along with its companion training programme, Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT). Consequently, Cockpit Resource Management was re-named Crew Resource Management and has been extended to other front-line operators including cabin crew, maintenance personnel, dispatch personnel, handling personnel etc. (Keightley, 20045).
  • CRM principles are also being integrated into standard operating procedures (SOPs) or standard practices that apply to all personnel. Therefore, Crew Resource Management may be entering a third phase of development that is leaning towards Company Resource Management. This is supported by increasing emphasis on fostering an effective safety culture within aviation organisations through shared concern for the consequences of actions of all employees at all organisational levels (Keightley, 20045).

Third Generation - Late 1980s onwards

  • The third generation of human factors expanded the scope of human factors to address aviation safety from a systems perspective including organisational and cultural aspects (Amalberti et al., 19981). It is now recognised that safety must be created through practice by people at all levels of an organisation (Dekker, 20063).
  • Operator error is now viewed as a symptom or effect of system issues connected with design, regulation or organisational/management aspects, rather than the one and only or "root" cause of accidents (Dekker, 20063). Focus is directed towards explaining why operators did why they did given the circumstances that surrounded them (Dekker, 20063).
  • As a result of this widened perspective of aviation safety, accident investigations, aviation safety reporting systems and airline safety policies are being re-engineered and re-developed (Amalberti et al., 19981). For instance, aviation incident and accident reports have expanded probable causes to include issues within organisational systems, lack of communication effectiveness within organisations, training inadequacies, regulator deficiencies, problems with organisational culture, the impact of national cultures, manufacturer or design deficiencies etc.

Fourth Generation - 1990s onwards

  • The cognitive ergonomics generation (Amalberti et al., 19981).
  • Addresses the cognitive dimensions of interactions including human-machine, human-software and human-human communication.
  • A central goal of cognitive ergonomics is to keep the human "in the loop" of understanding and cognitively controlling a situation (human-centred design) to improve human performance and reliability (Amalberti et al., 19981). This is especially significant with the advent of automation.
  • Cognitive ergonomics involves designing cognitive interfaces (information transfer media) to provide the end-user with the greatest comprehension of a situation or the best situational awareness that allows the end-user to act effectively, efficiently and safely (Amalberti et al., 19981). For example, flight documentation requires attention to some basic cognitive ergonomics principles that aid comprehension/understanding of written material:
    • Language is clear and simple (i.e. "plaintalk"), ideas flow, vocabulary and grammar are appropriate, there is nothing important missing etc.
    • Typography (i.e. the form of letters and layout) is clear, logical and promotes ease of understanding
    • Good use of images/visual aids in place of long descriptive text and use of colour in illustrations (where applicable)
    • Print and page size are appropriate for the working environment within which the documentation will be used (Civil Aviation Authority, 20022).
  • Cognitive ergonomics may have contributed to the development of Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA). CTA involves producing training and design models based on the cognitive structures and processes underlying expert job performance to facilitate learning and optimise job performance (Redding & Seamster, 19976).

The Next Generation

  • Perhaps the fifth generation of human factors is Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM). ADM represents a generation of decision-centred training and decision-centred design.
  • ADM training that focuses on improving decision-making skills is being emphasised within the aviation industry and is having a positive impact on pilot decision-making performance by reducing pilot decision errors (Kaempf & Klein, 19974). The reasons for this emphasis may be related to the important effect that operator decision-making has on aviation safety and the changing effect that automation has on decision requirements (Kaempf & Klein, 19974).
  • Furthermore, recent research on naturalistic decision-making that has led to increased knowledge of decision-making in natural environments (such as the cockpit) extends ADM by describing the cognitive processes involved in making decisions (Kaempf & Klein, 19974). This improves the effectiveness of ADM training and allows ADM to be applied to the design of information displays and human-machine interfaces to enhance operator decision performance (Kaempf & Klein, 19974).
1. AMALBERTI, R., PARIES, J., VALOT, C., & WIBAUX, F. (1998). Human factors in aviation: An introductory course. In Klaus-Martin Goeters (Ed.), Aviation psychology: A science and a profession. Ashgate Publishing Ltd (England), 1998.
2. CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY (CAA). (2002). CAP 719: Fundamental Human Factors Concepts. Retrieved from CAA on 28 September 2009.
3. DEKKER, SIDNEY. (2006). The field guide to understanding human error. Ashgate Publishing Ltd (England), 2006.
4. KAEMPF, GEORGE L., & KLEIN, GARY. (1997). Aeronautical decision making: The next generation. In Neil Johnston, Nick McDonald & Ray Fuller (Eds.), Aviation psychology in practice. Ashgate Publishing Ltd (England), 2001.
5. KEIGHTLEY, ALAN. (2004). 190.216 human factors study guide. Massey University (Palmerston North), 2004.
6. REDDING, RICHARD E., & SEAMSTER, THOMAS L. (1997). Cognitive task analysis in air traffic controller and aviation crew training. In Neil Johnston, Nick McDonald & Ray Fuller (Eds.), Aviation psychology in practice. Ashgate Publishing Ltd (England), 2001.

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