Since the technology came into play, many sectors of the economy have embraced it to ensure that they are not left behind in terms of competitive environments in their business areas. Technology has played a very significant role in changing how business organizations carry out their activities. In general, there are many benefits that come with the use of technology, but at the same time there are many other difficulties associated with the same.
The aviation industry is one such industry that has embraced the use of technology in different areas. Cockpit automation has brought a lot of different operations in the airline industry. This technology like many other technologies has brought many benefits into the aviation industry, while at the same time carrying with it many challenges. The challenges that are associated with the use of automated cockpit are as well associated with the human error. Automated cockpit use has played a significant role in efficiency and safety in the aviation industry, but on the other hand, there are some serious problems that the system has posed, such as the machine failure that comes as a result of poor coordination among the people involved. The airline industry is considered as the safest transportation industry in terms of the number of reported accidents, and cockpit automation has been said to contribute to this safety. However, there are many other accidents that have been caused by the use of the automated cockpits being attributed to automation surprises.
Automation was introduced in the airline industry as a way of controlling and improving performance and reducing risks that are associated with the industry. In essence, automation aims at providing the crews with comfort and have better performance, experienced with fewer problems. Any new technology takes time to be adopted by the users, and it might even face stiff resistance if at all it seems to pose competition to human labor force, or problems in making adjustments. Therefore, before it is adopted, a technology has to be given time. The technology takes time to be adopted mainly because of the harmonization that has to take place in the industry. This has not been any different from the cockpits automation. The transition from the traditional to the automated cockpit aircraft has been faced with many challenges majorly from the pilot errors that have led to the many cases of accidents. Some of the errors have come as a result of poor technical designs of the automated cockpits, while others are due to lack of adequate training of the cockpit users.
Risks and Benefits of Cockpit Automation
Air transport has become increasingly important to many travelers. It is due to this and other factors that have contributed to having many concerns on the safety of the air transport. There are several accidents that have been occurring in the air transport, but it is not possible to fully say what the exact shortfalls that lead to these problems are. There are very few airline accidents that occurs compared for instance to the road transport. There have been various reasons that have been linked to causing air transport accidents, but the major causes have been linked to human error (Amalberti, 1998).
In most cases, the problems that have occurred in the aviation industries mostly leading to accidents has been linked to human error , resulting from fatigue. Fatigue that occurs within the cockpit can be as a result of factors arising inside the cockpit or outside. Fatigue can be attributed to workload that the pilots have. This is mostly high among the pilots who conduct short haul transportations, especially during the landing and take off periods. Fatigue can as well be caused by physical exertion, and the environment. In general, whatever causes fatigue; there are many effects that fatigue can have on the performance of pilots. These forms of fatigue are some of the issues that have led to having measures to counter the fatigue in the cockpit (Cram, 2005).
Automation has been considered as one form of controlling fatigue caused by workload. This is because automation reduces the amount of manual workload being performed by the crews. It has however still remained a big challenge to the pilots to control fatigue that occurs as a result of take offs and landing. However, there are still many other human problems that are associated with the cockpit automation that have been addressed as causing airline accidents (Cram, 2005).
Automation of the cockpits has been a successful story for quite some time. The success has mostly been centered on the economic base, for instance fuel saving. It has been also a big benefit to the crews as it has highly reduced the time used in training. This has seen the qualification of cross crew being improved from one plane to another in a shorter period, though this has received criticism that the pilots do not learn enough in such a short transition period.
The most important part of cockpit automation is that it has been found to increase safety in the airline industry. The glass cockpits have been found to reduce the number of accidents by half compared to the previous set of planes. The safety is however not solely attributed to automation but also to other factors such as improvement in areas like the air traffic control.
The aviation industry was faced with tough challenges in the 1960s (that were mostly attributed to economic issues), which needed the industry to demonstrate its prowess in carrying many passengers and on safe grounds (Amalberti, 1998). The industry could not attain its goal as a result of the human limitations. This called for the new ways in which the pilots had to perform their duties. This is what led to the formation of automation in the airline industry as a way of countering the human limitations. Therefore, the essence of bringing automation in the airline industry was generally to reduce the workload that the pilots and other crews had in the industry. It was also aimed at relieving the pilots from performing duties that are repetitive. Finally, the aim was to bestow the pilots with the duty of decision making as their main duty (Parasuraman, & Mouloua, 1996).
Looking at the glass cockpit automated airline, it can be argued that the automation goal has been achieved. The performance of this generation of planes has been considered to be magnificent, which might not need many changes. This system has seen improvement in areas like the lateral navigation.
In introducing cockpit automation, it was aimed at helping the pilots to control how the planes performed. However, with time, the use of automated aircrafts has led to the system becoming very powerful making it take the role of controlling the performance of the planes while leaving the pilot with the role of monitoring the system. In most cases, in the current system, the pilot is charged with the duty of taking care of landing and take offs, while the other duties are left to the automated system (Amalberti, 1998).
This system has contributed significantly to control of aircrafts being economical, but there have been changes in the mode in which the system errors are observed. There have been decreased cases of errors of commission in the airline industry as these errors were mostly caused by human beings, and now that these functions are carried out by the machines, such errors have reduced significantly. However, on the other hand, there has been increase in omission errors as human beings do not act at the moment they are required to do so.
As earlier agued, many people are not ready to embrace the technology at a first glance as long as it is going to interfere with their job. This has not an exception to the introduction of automation in cockpit. Many pilots felt that it was going to lead to the reduction of their crew members; hence they were opposed to the introduction of the system in their organization as much as they could. In other regions, there were increased glass cockpit accidents in which it was felt that these were deliberately caused by the pilots as a way of protesting against the introduction of automation (Parasuraman, & Mouloua, 1996).
The other problem attributed to cockpit automation is due to the fact that it requires the users to have the experience which again needs time to get used to it. This thus needs the pilot to use more effort than before. Furthermore, the automation is mostly presented in the English language. This poses a big challenge to the pilots who are not of the native English speaking. In most cases, the database systems of the automation have a set standards at which the planes have to land and take off. There are some instances in which the pilots have been found to fault these rules erroneously causing accidents. The pilots have also been confused with the similar names or incidences that are in the databases during coordination. Most of these problems are solved after a pilot gets experience and more acquitted with using the system.
There are incidences in which the pilots have used the programmed systems where they are supposed to use the manuals in ensuring flight safety. This has contributed to several incidences at the airports which have turned out to be catastrophic to the passengers and the crews. These are some of the issues that have contributed to the clumsy logic system in the airline industries (Wright, 2002).
Different people evaluate automated machines according to their understanding of the functioning of the machines. However, many pilots do not understand the logic behind the operation of the computer and what they should expect of it. The danger of this is that if what is expected of the machine to perform does not occur, then the outcome can be very precarious. This is mostly in the situations where there is the autopilot in which the plane has to follow the without the human pilot carrying out any action. Many pilots have been confused by the autopilot’s dynamics. There is usual no problem or cause to worry when the plans of the pilot and the automation coincide. However, it is more problematic to the pilot when the plans differ.
There are situations in which the pilot can experience poor feedback from the automation. In such instances, it is not possible for the pilot to actually understand the functioning of the machine. This can be as a result of the human being not being able to interpret what the machine is communicating. If the pilot cannot interpret what the automated machine is communicating, it can lead to taking a surprised action which might blow the whole system out of proportion. Several accidents have been reported resulting from the pilot setting into another mode when there was a different mode being in use by the automation. This problems related to mode are as a result of having poor feedback. This mostly occurs when the current mode is not conveyed to the pilot (Norman, 1990).
There have been other incidences in which the pilots rely so much on the automation that they do not take control of monitoring the plane. There are circumstances in which the pilots have trusted the automation so much that it is not possible for them to realize automation failure, which contributes to complacency. On the other hand, there are cases in which pilots do not trust or have little trust on the automations, which can make it difficult for them to use it when it is appropriate. This contributes to the pilots having workloads that might have been reduced by automation. Those who have so much relied on automation risks loosing the important knowledge they have on working manually. Therefore, the implication of this is manifested when the automated is not functioning and requires the pilot to work manually. It is normal that in such a situation, the pilot will do very little as there is need to recall the past information, which might not be an easy task. This has been manifested when in the normal circumstances, the operators react well with the machines but incase of any system failure, it becomes difficult for the pilot to act normally. This problem can be attributed to both loss of manual skills and having poor feedback. It can also be attributed to the fact that since the pilots depends so much on automation, it will not be possible for them to detect if there is any system failure. In case they do, it is highly possible that they are not equipped to deal with the problem (Wright, 2002).
There is a tendency by the pilots to assume that the automated machine is a copilot, and leave it to perform more tasks than it is programmed to perform. This will make the pilot to neglect their duties so long as they know that the computer is doing what they are supposed to be doing. This is very dangerous especially when the machine develops some mechanical problems, and since the pilot was not keeping an eye on it, the damage that might be caused can be of great magnitude. It has to be understood that it is difficult to leave most tasks to be performed by the machines while the human monitor the operations. This is because human are very poor in monitoring any activity. In case of any slightest distraction, the concentration disappears. Furthermore, those monitoring such machines may become bored quickly and loose the monitoring track. This is attributed to the fact that a bored human being is distracted very easily. In case of distraction, a human being is not able to prioritize or discriminate information, making it difficult to make an informed decision when distracted while on the look out (Parasuraman, & Mouloua, 1996).
Due to the monitoring role that the pilot have taken up, the problem is that the pilots have developed the expectation based monitoring system whereby instead of them taking up their general instruments role, they only check at the system to see if it is functioning as normal. In such a situation, it becomes difficult for the pilot to realize if there is any automated system failure that is beyond what they expect. The other problem posed by the automated system is the amount of information it gives to the pilot which is supposed to be synthesized in a short period. This implies that if the pilot does not have enough time, then there is little attention paid to the information that might be very important needing urgent attention. If this is not met, then there can be for instance a system failure that might affect the general operation of the system or worse, the entire airline industry.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Looking at the arguments presented, there are many risks that are associated with the use of automated cockpit than the benefits. However, technology takes time to fully be embraced and take effect as it is required to operate. Therefore, it is not prudent to say that since there are many risks in this technology, it has to be abandoned. No. The system can however be improved on the weaknesses observed and thus fully implemented to take effect as initially planned. This will play a significant role in building the aviation industry to be a more safe industry and the one with the highest level of technology in serving its customers.
In case the errors are detected, they have to be rectified as a way of preventing system failure. Therefore, it is up to the pilots to come an appropriate system of determining any problem in the system and come up with a good functioning system. It is not right for the pilot to depend on the manual system to solve a problem that might have occurred in the system, but has to provide some additional information in the automated system that can help in solving the problems.
While learning, errors can occur in the system; hence it is good that the pilots should be able to learn from their past experience. If the pilots can not learn from the previous experience, it can lead to a situation where they will develop inaccurate mental system that can affect future activities like planning and monitoring other systems.
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Cram A (2005): Human Fatigue in Commercial Cockpit Crews: It’s causes, impact, potential Countermeasures, and the implications for organizational management in commercial aviation, Retrieved on October 21, 2008 from http://www.andrewcram.com/HumanFatigue.pdf.
Norman D. A (1990): The Problem Of Automation: Inappropriate Feedback and Interaction, Not Over-Automation, Retrieved on October 21, 2008 from http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/Norman-overautomation.pdf.
Parasuraman, R & Mouloua M (1996): Automation and Human Performance: Theory and Applications; ISBN 080581616X, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
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