ICAO: Operational implications of automation in advanced technology flight decks

ICAO Human Factor documents » Operational implications of automation in advanced technology flight decks
ICAO addressed the topic of operational implications of automation in advanced technology flight decks in the 1992 circular Human Factors Digest no. 5.[1] It is primarily directed to training managers and operational personnel, but pilots and others will also benefit from it. Today’s pilots simply have available additional tools in automation. These new tools clearly represent new challenges.


1.[2]The purpose of the digest is to identify operational and training issues, and to provide an understanding of the problems in the interface between humans and automation, with emphasis on the way in which automation affects human performance.
One of the reasons for the introduction of automation was the elimination of human error. So far, it has been successful in the elimination of certain type of errors. But in other cases, what has taken place is a displacement of error. Experience indicates that while automation eliminates small errors, it may increase the potential for large errors.

Chapter 1. An Introduction to Automation

1.1. The terms of flight deck automation is defined as the assignment to machinery, by choice of the crew, of some tasks or portion of task performed by the human crew to machinery, included warning and alerting systems.
The history of automation in aviation and its evolutionary nature were addressed;

  • 1.2. In the early years, its initial aim was to stabilize aircraft attitude by controlling the aerodynamic surfaces. E.g gyroscopic devices were used.
  • 1.3. Vacuum driven gyroscopes were replaced by electrical systems and electronic amplifiers.
  • 1.4. Flight directors were originally introduced for the purpose of having more accurate aircraft (inner loop) control.
  • 1.5. Automatic landings were made possible during 1960. The concept of “automated commands” were further extended by introducing ground proximity warning systems (GPWS), the airborne collision avoidance system (ACAS/TCAS) , area navigation (RNAV) and four-dimensional flight management systems.
  • 1.6. Electronic cathode ray tube (CRT) displays and automated system management devices reduced flight deck workloads from three to two-person crews.
  • 1.7. More advanced forms of automation were introduced with new aircraft types, e.g. 747-400; A320. The growth of microprocessor technology.

1.11.–1.15. The implementation of automation has been evolutionary, but not revolutionary. Its philosophy is known as a technology-centred approach, as opposed to a human-centred approach. Comparing human and machine in terms of their functions.

Chapter 2. Issues and Concerns in Automation

2.4 One of the most controversial issues in automated flight decks is the role of the pilot. Some argue that the main job of the pilot has changed from being primarily a flight controller to a system manager, while others believe that the basic task of safely flying passengers and freight has remain unchanged, and that all changes have simply been evolutionary.
2.2 More than 60 concerns relating to automation were identified during the Society of automotive engineers Human Behavioural Technology Committee (G-10) in 1985. These concerns were grouped into 9 categories:

  • Situation awareness
  • Automation complacency
  • Automation intimidation
  • Maintenance of the captain’s command authority
  • Design of the crew interface
  • Pilot selection
  • Training and procedures
  • The role of a pilot in an automated aircraft
  • Other issues

2.3 further elaboration of these 9 categories were specifically emphasised in relation to operational personnel, such as

  • Loss of situational awareness
  • Loss of systems awareness
  • Poor interface design
  • Reversion to manual control
  • Automation-induced crew co-ordination changes
  • Attitudes towards automation
  • Motivation and job satisfaction
  • Over-reliance
  • Systematic decision errors
  • Boredom and automation complacency
  • Automation intimidation
  • Distrust in systems
  • Pilot selection procedures
  • Mode confusion and mode misapplications
  • Interface with existing ATC system
  • Vulnerability to gross error
  • Workload management
  • Heads-down time
  • Suitability of the supervision of training

Chapter 3. Training for Automation

3.2. This Chapter identifies some issues that have been raised in regards to training and the lessons learnt in advanced flight deck technology aircraft, such as

  • 3.5. Having assessment of training requirements.
  • 3.6. Having an adequate transition training program.
  • 3.7. Understanding the depth of training.
  • 3.8. Recognizing the value and applicability of part-task trainers.
  • 3.9. Using home computers to fulfil training requirements.
  • 3.10. Considering the time elapsed since the last transition training.
  • 3.11. More specific issues relate to transition training, such as the transition from electomechanical instruments to electronic flight instrument systems; training for the loss of all the electronic displays; and the use of autopilot, flight management system and mode control panel.
  • 3.12. Providing guidelines on the use of automation.
  • 3.13. Exploring the benefits of replaying incidents or accidents where automation has been involved.
  • 3.14. Understanding that monitoring and proficiency checks should be constantly reinforced during training.
  • 3.16. Having thorough requalification training.
  • 3.17. Having a high priority of standardisation and simplification in the operation of two-person crew automated aircraft.

3.3. The changing role of the flight crew in advanced flight deck technology aircraft has also been mentioned. The primary role of the pilot has remained the same - completing the planned flight safely with maximum passenger comfort. The functions include monitoring, planning and decision making. The tasks are communicating, navigating and operating.

Chapter 4 Management techniques and coping strategies

4.2. A basic requirement for flight operations management is to develop an unambiguous understanding of the way flight operations are to be conducted. This understanding must be stated clearly, and these intentions must then be communicated effectively to flight crews. To foster a proper management climate is to follow the rules and procedures throughout all levels of flight operations and management.
4.1. In automation related issues, management impact is vital. At the system level, the benefits of management involvement surpass those which might be obtained addressing the individual operator.
4.3. Management support is also essential in the production and use of operational media.
4.4. Operational management and pilots must be involved in the acquisition of equipment (hardware).
4.5. It is hardly surprising that training and procedures were highlighted as problem areas in early surveys of the operation of advanced technology aircraft. The establishment of a feedback loop between operational personnel and the training department is essential, since training precedes and affects flight operations.
4.6. Differences in training for two and three-person crew operations. The change from three- to two-person flight crews results in a significant change, requiring a different approach to flight deck resource management, in standard operating procedures and in checklists.
4.7. Pilot promotion policies and scheduling practices create additional problems.
4.8. Controlling pilot and monitoring pilot duties must be clearly delineated and tasks properly allocated, with particular emphasis on the role of the monitoring pilot.
4.9. Having the concept of embedded training.
4.10. The development of ATC has not kept pace with advances in flight deck capability.
4.11. Providing documentary support to flight crews.
4.12. Performing non-operational tasks.
4.13. Establishing an international reference system.

1. ICAO-INTERNATIONAL CIVIL AVIATION ORGANIZATION (1992). Human factors digest no 5. Operational Implications of Automation in Advanced Technology Flight Decks. Circular 238-AN/142. ICAO (Montreal, Canada), 1992.
2. This number corresponds to the paragraph number in the ICAO's circular. Missing paragraphs deal with examples and other information deemed not too important of a synopsis.

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ICAO Human Factors Digest No.5

ICAO-INTERNATIONAL CIVIL AVIATION ORGANIZATION (1992). Human factors digest no 5. Operational Implications of Automation in Advanced Technology Flight Decks. Circular 238-AN/142. ICAO (Montreal, Canada), 1992.

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