Human Factors: The Last Frontier of Aviation Safety

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Human Factors: The Last Frontier of Aviation Safety

According to the author of this article a significance amount of literature insists that human factors in aircraft accidents have been the cause more commonly in recent years, since the 1980s. The hypothesis is that as time passed mechanical errors reduced in numbers due to technical improvements in aircraft and thus human errors became more prominent.

For the historical data one hundred aircraft accidents which led to injury or death were used from the records which are maintained by Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). Accident records were taken from March 1921 to September 1932. Modern day accident records were acquired from a statistical report on fatal aviation accidents in Australia. The factors contributing to accidents were classified as follows: pilot error, airframe, weather, terrain, other personal, and engine. The percentages of accidents in which each contributing factor played a role were compared between historical and modern records. Note that there could be more than one contributing factor in an accident.

Contributing Factors Historical Accidents Modern Accidents
Human Error 68% 72%
Weather 12% 17%
Other personal 8% 12%
Terrain 14% 8%
Engine 14% 5%
Airframe 8% 4%

The data show that even in historical aircraft accidents human error was the single most common contributing factor, not technical errors. The author refers to supporting data from British and German World War One flight accidents and early American civil aviation statistics, which also show that human errors were the major causes of the accidents even back then.
The results of this study do not support the last frontier view of human factors. They show that human factors were and continue to remain the greatest challenge to air transport safety.

Alan Hobbs (2004) Human Factors: The Last Frontier of Aviation Safety? The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 14:4, 331-345

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