Flying without errors

BrunelUniversity has helped to develop a system that could reduce the number of air travel accidents caused by pilot error arising from design flaws in aircraft cockpits.

The Human Error Template (HET) is used during the design and building phases to identify design defects that could increase the chances of human error, meaning they can be remedied before the aircraft is completed.

‘It is a paper based checklist tool,’ said Paul Salmon, a research fellow at BrunelUniversity’s School of Engineering and Design. ‘We have an error mode taxonomy with 12 different modes of error.

‘Each task involved in the flying of an aircraft is analysed and each step of the task is put into a hierarchy. Every step can then be taken through a flow chart to analyse it for potential sources of error and then the errors categorised and dealt with.

‘Human error analysis has not really been done explicitly for the aviation industry. We took methods appropriate for aviation from other analysis techniques and brought them together.’

HET is said to be the only method of its kind designed specifically to identify design-induced pilot error. Research has shown that it outperforms the three most commonly used error analysis techniques: SHEPRA (systematic human error reduction and prediction approach); HEIST (human error in systems tool); and Human Error HAZOP (hazard and operability study).

While accidents caused by the reliability and structural integrity of aircraft have fallen over the last 50 years, accidents arising from design have increased. Examples such as the Nagoya A300 crash in 1994 and Cali 757 crash in 1995 highlight how increased automation of modern aircraft and poor design of the operating logic of the controls in the cockpit can result in fatal accidents.

‘Recent reports have proven that accidents can indeed occur as a result of a pilot selecting the wrong control in the cockpit and the HET is designed to identify instances of human error in the early phases of the design life cycle,’ said Prof Neville Stanton.

The project was funded by the former Department of Trade and Industry under the European EUREKA! Research Programme and recently received the Bronze Medal and Hodgson Award from the Royal Aeronautical Society in recognition of its contribution to the advancement of air travel safety.

Other project partners included Marshall Associates and the universities of Cranfield, Limerick and Lund.