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Closing the gap between human factors and technology as aviation automation increases

An air traffic controller controlling a virtual airspace using hand gestures.

New technologies, digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI) are considered a reliable source for more capacity and efficiency. However, confidence in technology alone is unlikely to bring many improvements to fruition without taking human factors and ergonomics (HF/E) into consideration – which is exactly the gap that EUROCONTROL, ENAIRE and DFS sought to tackle at the Biennial System Thinking and HF Conference. The three-day event in Madrid brought together over 140 experts from across the aviation industry to focus on the importance of human factors and ergonomics in system design focusing on automation.

“Safety is the number 1 priority, and human factors a key driver in support of robust daily operations. Our professionals are our greatest asset and a crucial element of the system when guaranteeing operations: they need to be cherished and protected. In this sense, we need to understand and facilitate the impact of automation on their daily work.

“The increasing automation in aviation and especially in Air Traffic Control is changing the interaction between man and machine. Innovation in technology is increasing at an enormous pace and automation is constantly evolving. Changes in the use of new technologies as well as influences of technology on our behaviour can be observed in everyday life.

“We all would probably agree that air traffic management will remain a human-centred industry for some years to come. People at the sharp end remain in control and are making safety and business-critical decisions. Technology can support these decisions and in the near future will develop from a solely information delivery system towards a decision support system for the operator.”

Ángel Luis Arias CEO ENAIRE

Key deliverable

The main output of the conference is a White Paper on Human Factors Integration in ATM System Design co-authored by EUROCONTROL and DFS under a grant from EUROCONTROL and developed by Andre Perott and Nils Tavares Schader under the lead of DFS’s Joerg Leonhardt and EUROCONTROL’s Tony Licu, the co-chairs of EUROCONTROL Safety Human Performance Sub-Group.

This is an important step forward for ATM, as Iacopo Prissinotti, EUROCONTROL Director Network Management, underlines.

“The gap between the disciplines of human factors and systems engineering with new technology is widening because of rapid and steady technological development and progress. We need to work together to close this gap in order to form a team from human and technology, where working methods are better coordinated and interconnected. For this, it is necessary to deal with the technical development as well as with models of cognition.”

Iacopo Prissinotti Director Network Management EUROCONTROL

The joint White Paper proposes a set of basic principles to help better integration of Human Factors/ Ergonomics (HF/E) in system design. These include:

  1. Build joint design teams and do not treat HF/E as a mandatory add-on
  2. Make a coherent user-centred-design rationale for your HF/E product
  3. Strive for a short, iterative user-centred design process
  4. Derive objective HF/E criteria instead of relying on user opinions
  5. Evaluate as early as possible with the help of prototypes
  6. Select appropriate conditions for evaluation: Evaluate day-to-day operations as well as critical situations
  7. Support the problem-solving process during implementation by facilitating trade-offs
  8. Do a proper problem-setting in the first place whenever possible to understand your actual problem and the underlying mechanisms and needs
  9. Be ready to participate in strategic decisions and introduce a purpose-orientated view of technology

DFS’s Joerg Leonhardt and EUROCONTROL’s Tony Licu, the co-chairs of EUROCONTROL’s Safety Human Performance Sub-Group, noted that the White Paper is an urgently needed milestone that will improve user acceptance and ensure that the benefits of automation and technology are effectively realised.

Read the full white paper to learn more