Is There Such a Phenomena as ‘Pilot Error’ in Aviation Accidents

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  • Topic: Aviation accidents and incidents, Air safety, International Civil Aviation Organization
  • Pages : 14 (4350 words )
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  • Published : June 5, 2011
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Is there such a phenomena as ‘pilot error’ in Aviation accidents


The term ‘Pilot error’ has been attributed to 78%[1] of Army aviation accidents. Despite the technological advances in Rotary Wing (RW) aircraft i.e., helicopters accidents attributed to technology failure are decreasing, whilst pilot error is increasing. Currently, RW accidents are investigated and recorded using a taxonomy shown to suffer difficulties when coding human error and quantifying the sequence of events prior to an air accident. As Human Factors (HF) attributed accidents are increasing, lessons aren’t being identified nor the root cause is known. Therefore, I propose to introduce Human Factors Analysis and Classification system (HFACS) an untried taxonomy to the UK military developed as an analytical framework to investigate the role of HF in United States of America (USA) aviation accidents. HFACS, supports organizational structure, pre-cursors of psychological error and actual error; but little research exists to explain the intra-relations between the levels and components, or the application in the military RW domain. Therefore, I intend to conduct post-hoc analysis using HFACS of 30+ air accidents between 1993 to present. Implications of this research are to develop a greater understanding of how Occupational Psychology (OP) can help pilots understand HF, raise flight awareness and reduce HF attributed fatalities.


“On 2 June 1994 an RAF Chinook Mk2 helicopter, ZD 576, crashed on the Mull of Kintyre on a flight from RAF Aldergrove to Fort George, near Inverness. All on board were killed: the two pilots, the two crewmembers and the 25 passengers. This was to have been a routine, non-operational flight, to take senior personnel of the security services to a conference. The sortie was planned in advance; it was entirely appropriate for these pilots, Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cook, and for the aircraft, ZD576, to have been assigned this mission. An RAF Board of Inquiry (BOI) was convened following the accident and carried out a detailed investigation. BOIs are established to investigate the cause of serious accidents, primarily, to make safety recommendations but, at the time of this crash, to also determine if human failings were involved. Their conclusion, after an exhaustive investigation was there was not one single piece of known fact that does not fit the conclusion that this tragic accident was a controlled flight into terrain.” The BOI found no evidence of mechanical failure and multiple witnesses stated that the aircraft appeared to be flying at 100ft at 150 knots there was no engine note change, the aircraft didn’t appear to be in distress and at the crash scene the throttle controls were still in the cruise position (not at emergency power if collision with the ground was imminent).[2] So the causation moved to Human Factors (HF). But some questions remain unanswered, on that fateful day why did these seasoned and experienced pilots fly their aircraft and passengers into a hillside at 150 knots. If this accident was attributed to HF it now appears to some that the aircrew themselves are more deadly than the aircraft they fly (Mason, 1993: cited in Murray, 1997). The crucial issue therefore is to understand why pilots Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper and Richard Cooks’ actions made sense to them at the time the fatal accident happened. Relevance of Research

So why is this topic relevant to OP research? The British Army branch of aviation is an organization called the Army Air Corps (AAC) and in keeping with the trends of the other two services the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, it has seen a steep decline in accidents in recent years. However, accidents attributed to Human Factors (HF) have steadily risen and are responsible for 90% of all aviation accidents.[3]. This research will depart from the traditional perspective of the label “pilot error” as the underlying...
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