ICAO: Human Factors in Cabin Safety

ICAO: Human Factors documents » ICAO: Human factors in cabin safety

ICAO addressed the topic of human factors in Cabin Safety in the 2003 circular Human factors digest no 15. Human Factors in Cabin Safety1. The Digest introduces the latest information available to the international aviation community on relevant Human Factors considerations for aircraft passenger cabin safety. Although a relatively old publication, the main ideas that are addressed in the circular currently remain relevant and described below is a synopsis of the contents in the circular.


The introduction chapter contains fundamental human factors concepts, a brief description of the SHELL framework, and an introduction to Reason's (1990)2 error classification system. Because error is an integral part of all human endeavour, eliminating it is an unachievable objective. Therefore it’s evident that there is a need to manage and control errors and to lessen the errors negative consequences through a systematic error management system.

Chapter 1. Human Factors in Teams

1.1.3 Team performance issues are becoming more predominant. Considerable progress toward understanding teams achieved, more is now known about team cohesion, team leadership, team communication, team decision making, team competencies and teamwork.

1.2. The individual, team, task and work characteristics influence team processes, which in turn influence team performance. Team performance requires more than individual performance and when crew perform well together, they work in synergy. When in synergy, the performance of a team of people working together is higher than the sum of each individual’s performance.

1.3. The cabin crew structure, where the roles and responsibilities for each crew member clearly defined, contributes to increased synergy.

1.4. To generate synergy between cabin crew, certain conditions, such as task allocation, authority allocation and leadership, a friendly and professional environment are needs to be met.

1.6. The measurement of team performance is important. Tools that can be used to measure team performance:

  • observational scales
  • critical incidents analysis
  • expert ratings
  • communication analysis

1.7. Cohesion and team competencies also influence the team performance. Factors affecting the team cohesion:

  • commitment to the task; and
  • the team’s standards of acceptable performance.

Commitment to the task appears to be the most important component of cohesiveness.

1.8.-1.9. Efficient team requires a leader. Leadership occasionally is associated with a hierarchical position in an organization providing authority. Leadership is also supported by characteristics such as personality, attitudes and values. The necessary leadership competencies are redefined within a team environment. It is important that organizational policies support these leadership competencies and training programmes support their continued development.

1.10.-1.13. Some cabin crew members working on different types of aircrafts, when confronted with a severe abnormal situation, they confuse equipment type, location and utilization. According to ICAO census, the Contracting States allowing their cabin crew to fly on multiple aircraft types, but not established regulatory requirements. Therefore States lack the capacity to regulate and oversee cross-crew qualification and mixed-fleet flying programmes involving cabin crew.

1.14.-1.21. CRM is a standard method that is used in civil aviation to support team performance. CRM establishes a team approach to solving complex problems that can arise within the aircraft’s work environment. Culture can impact the effectiveness of CRM training. Cultural differences often slow down the implementation CRM programmes. Four types of cultures that influence CRM: the national culture of the crew member, professional culture, organizational culture and the organization’s safety culture.

1.22.-1.23 Cultural differences is an issue where Human Factors knowledge can be effectively applied. Awareness of cultural differences can minimize misunderstandings among crew members with different cultural backgrounds. It also can be addressed with respect to the cultural diversity of passengers.

Chapter 2. Communication and Coordination

2.1. Communication is an important tool in the exchange of timely information under normal and abnormal operating conditions among flight crew, cabin crew and passengers. Efficient tool in resolving communication and coordination issues is joint training exercises on evacuations for flight and cabin crew.

2.2.-2.4. Timely and effective communication between the cabin and flight crew is important. Although “sterile cockpit” (Federal Aviation Regulations FAR 121.542) is helpful, it restricts cabin crew communication by discouraging them from reporting potentially vital information to the flight crew. Therefore communication should be kept to safety-critical information during the following phases:

  • before and during take-off,
  • prior to and during landing
  • ATC calls, because they require pilots’ attention
  • navigation or weather problems, since they require problem-solving and decision-making from the flight crew
  • during emergencies

2.5.-2.7. During an emergency evacuation and abnormal operations it is important that communication be clear and evacuation order has been given and transmitted. Cabin and flight crew often evolved within two distinct technical cultures and because of organizational separations it’s resulted in discrepancies in training, manuals and procedures. Because of cabin and the flight deck are physically distinct separated by a locked door, and work environments are different, the communication consideration for both flight and cabin crew is distinct. Therefore it’s vital to ensure the differences between the two professional cultures do not hinder optimal communication, through standardized training of certain procedures.

2.8.-2.12. To optimize coordination among cabin the crew briefings must be concise and comprehensive. ICAO recommends that pre-flight crew briefings given by the pilot-in-command should involve all crew members. Where joint briefings are not held, the pilot-in-command should brief the senior cabin crew member who will then brief the other cabin crew members prior to each flight. Briefings should be short, simple, interactive, achieve a balance between effectiveness and continual repetition of recurring items and also should focus on crew coordination as well as aircraft operational issues. Cabin crew briefings should have prioritization of all applicable conditions that exist for the departure. Finally briefings should also refresh all applicable procedures, especially if the aircraft is different from the one cabin crew typically work in, and crew should review the operation doors and emergency equipments.

2.13. Communication within an aircraft is usually completed through communications systems, such as PA and/or intercom systems. When such communications systems malfunctioned, communication among the cabin crew, the flight crew and the passengers is troubled. As a result, the timeliness and reliability of the information to be transmitted can be negatively impacted.

2.14.-2.18. Briefing cards and demonstrations are other forms of communication used to pass on safety messages and coordinate activities in the case of an emergency and required by national regulations. Research studies demonstrate that how passengers will behave in an emergency situation is often dependent on how well they have prepared. Safety briefings commonly ignored by passengers, depending on several factors, such as they believe chances are survival nil, or risk level so low and frequent travelers assume they know everything. Hence it’s important to bring passenger attention to the safety briefing.

2.19. The PA system provides the means of achieving objective of quick communication among cabin crew and passengers. During the evacuation the megaphones may be used to direct passengers, as alternative method of communication in the event of failure PA system.

2.20. There are factors influencing the unfocussed attention by passengers, such as the anticipation of departure after long check-in they are more relaxed and less attentive.

2.22. The tone of cabin crew addressing to passengers has a direct impact on the emergency evacuations. The firm and direct manner of communication is one good way of containing panic and inducing an organized evacuation.

2.23. Educating passengers on the consequences of inattention is important in obtaining passenger attention.

2.24.-2.27. Special consideration should be given to hearing impaired and/or blind passengers. Briefing cards should be designed to be understood by passengers who are totally unfamiliar with aircraft and safety equipment, and who may have a limited understanding of any of the languages used.

2.28.-2.29. Signs provide both information and instructions about the use and location of hardware systems and emergency equipment. There are design recommendations for signs, such as visibility, size of letters and pictures.

Chapter 3. Abnormal Events and Conditions

3.1.-3.9. During abnormal conditions Standard operating procedures (SOPs) an integral part of which are checklists, specify a sequence of tasks and actions to ensure that procedures can be carried out in a safe, efficient, logical and predictable manner. Flight operations personnel needs to be involved in the development, review of SOPs and feedback on the implementation of SOPs. SOPs should match the capabilities and limitations of human performance.

3.21.-3.23. Passengers have benefits from precautionary safety briefings just prior to emergency. The majority of serious evacuation injuries occurs at the aircraft door and at overwing exits without slides. Also, passengers’ efforts to evacuate an aircraft with carry-on baggage pose serious risk to a successful evacuation.

3.24. Communication is the important link between the flight crew, cabin crew and passengers in the effective and efficient completion of SOPs associated with emergencies and should be in clear concise fashion. The initiation of the evacuation is one example of it.

3.31.-3.99. “The evacuation is vitally dependent on the usability of safety equipment, such as exits, escape slides. Another important factor is the competent management of passenger behaviours during abnormal conditions. The passengers on board aircraft will include special needs and elderly passengers, as well as disruptive passengers. The behaviour of these passenger groups needs to be managed with newly emerging competencies geared to support adaptive behaviours in all passengers during emergencies. The occurrence and severity of maladaptive behaviours are especially acute in the event of a cabin fire due to the fact that the presence of fire, smoke and toxic gases restricts visibility, limits communication, decreases mental and physical capacities and impacts passenger behaviours. Following an evacuation, it is important that timely and appropriate support be provided to all personnel and passengers. Support will minimally include training and counselling services, which help in reducing the frequency and severity of post-traumatic stress disorder”1.

Chapter 4. Organizational Considerations

A brief description of Human Factors considerations within the larger organizational system is discussed in this chapter. According to SHELL framework the surrounding environment includes the organizational and management systems in which the individual must perform. Many Human Factors concepts can be applied to the organizational as well as to individual performance.

One of the principal goals of organizations is producing profit for shareholders , therefore safety must be present within the strategic and operational objectives of aviation organizations.

This chapter also contains brief description on Organisational Culture in Aviation, Safety Culture and Error Management.

1. ICAO - INTERNATIONAL CIVIL AVIATION ORGANIZATION (2003). Human factors digest no 15. Human factors in cabin safety. Circular 300-AN/173. ICAO (Montreal, Canada), 2003.
2. REASON James (1990). Human error. Cambridge University Press (UK), 1990.
+++ Footnotes +++
3. This number corresponds to the paragraph number in the ICAO circular. Missing paragraphs deal with examples and other information deemed not too important for a synopsis.

Want to know more?

AviationKnowledge - ICAO Human Factors
This AviationKnowledge page provides a synopsis of ICAO's Digest number 1, an introduction to Human Factors.
ICAO's Human factors digest no 15
You can access the whole document online as "Human factors digest no 15. Human factors in cabin safety. Circular 300-AN/173. ICAO (Montreal, Canada), 2003".

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