Automation and Human Factors

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Automation and Human Factors

40TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Geneva, Switzerland, 19-23 March 2001

WP No. 174

Automation and Human Factors

Introduction

This policy was included for review at the Marrakech 2000 conference. The policy at Page 4.1.2.2. Para. 2.5.2 – 2.5.4. is as follows:

“2.5.2. Automation must assist and support ATCOs in the execution of their duties, to improve performance and reduce workload, to remove non-essential tasks, to increase efficiency, to enhance not only the job satisfaction of the controller, but also the safety element of the controller’s task (Port of Spain 91.C.9).

2.5.3. The Human Factors aspects of Automation must be fully considered when developing Automated systems and should include the maintenance of essential manual skills and controller awareness (Port of Spain 91.C.10).

2.5.4. The Controller must remain the key element of the ATC system and must retain the overall control function of the system. Safeguards must be established to ensure that the controller remains an active, rather than a passive, user of an automated system (Port of Spain 91.C.11)”.

 

The reason for the review was perceived to be the development of so-called “free flight” and to check that the policy had not been superseded by any developments in the technical field.

SC4 wishes to acknowledge the very valuable comments made by Dr. Anthony Smoker, many of which have been incorporated into the draft recommendation.

Discussion

This policy was determined at Port of Spain in 1991 and was derived from WP74. This working paper was written after a previous paper addressing plans to introduce the Mode S transponder system was withdrawn the year before. This paper is much broader in scope covering both the human factors and legal issues involved.

A reading of WP74 finds that the basic concepts remain true however developments in the technical field are challenging these concepts. The question seems to revolve around the specific phrases used, some of which are ambiguous compared to current terminology and some of which may no longer be valid.

In recent years the Chairmen of Standing Committees 1 and 4 have agreed that Human Factors are not necessarily the sole responsibility of SC4, and that SC1 representatives who are dealing with the technical changes involved must address human factors in the technical field as they arise. Accordingly, members of SC1, in the light of current trends, considered the three policy statements.

Information received has been summarized as follows:

  • On 2.5.2.: The idea of automation is to enable the control system to handle more traffic. If workload reduction is a part of this, there can be no progress: workload may be reduced for each aircraft but the spare capacity made available will be used to accommodate more aeroplanes. Total workload should not be increased without proof that the combined automated/human systems can operate safely at the levels of workload predicted, and to be able to satisfactorily mange normal and abnormal occurrences.
  • On 2.5.3.: What is controller awareness? It should not be confused with situational awareness… it is the ability of the controller/human to understand what is going on – i.e. the “picture”. Are we sure that “manual skills” will always be required? And which of the “manual skills” will these be?
  • On 2.5.4.: This policy mixes up different things. The controller must remain the key element yes, but of the control function? What about transfer of responsibility or delegation? This also refers to human-centred automation doesn’t it? If so – well say so – but be wary about what is said – the wise man will not just slap human centred automation down but attempt to define it in some way, to stress the interpretation and context. The safeguards are really a separate statement as well. But again, the wise man will be wary. Our understanding of automation has progressed since 1991. IFATCA policy should ideally take this into account. So the statement might wish to say something like “automated tools or systems that support the control function must enable the human actor or agent to retain complete control of the control task in such a way so as to enable the said actor/agent to support timely interventions when situations occur that are outside the normal compass of the system design, or when abnormal situations occur which require non-compliance or variation to normal procedures. Unless the system design has been proven and been validated so, so as to enable the system to accept some responsibility for the task. What about the allocation of function between Man and machine? Active versus passive – well one could suggest that deviation monitors are a good way of ensuring that the controller is in the loop, because the system will tell you when something goes awry – but is that what is meant? No change will take place until the deviation monitor goes off, and alerts the controller – but it might be too late of course. Much more thought needs to go into what these statements really mean in the light of experience, and they should be refined as appropriate.
  • On Free flight: In general the very issue that makes US Free Flight so abhorrent is not addressed here – that of intent information, and the controller being responsible for situations that they have little or no control over. Ultimately it is all about locus of control and integrity/fidelity of information. The automation can be as sweet as a baby, but if the information is duff and leads you into duff decisions and complacency then what good is this.

These comments from SC1 serve to indicate that much development has taken place since 1991 leaving the policy statements that were then made in anticipation of automation somewhat out of date. It also raises fundamental questions about the convergence of Technical and Professional policy and the way it is displayed in the IFATCA manual. There is a need for Standing Committees 1 and 4 to address the formulation and display of policy to ensure that work is not duplicated, and that policy created by either can be read in the same context and preferably in the same part of the Manual.

There is room for a high level statement about how air traffic controller’s view the automation of their working environment, but at the same time we must ensure that this statement remains current and has relevance for the technical representatives who work on our behalf. In this regard it should have the status of Provisional Policy as the subject area is quickly developing and changing. The words “free flight” have been deliberately ignored in the policy, as this term is ambiguous, misleading and liberally interpreted according to the users point of view.

Conclusions

Both SC4 and Dr. Anthony Smoker, SC1, reviewed the policy statements.

Much of the content was found to be ambiguous and out of date.

There was still need for a “high level statement”, and that it should be Provisional Policy.

Recommendation

Delete paragraphs 2.5.2, 2.5.3, and 2.5.4.

Replace with a new paragraph 2.5.2. as follows:

The Human Factors aspects of Automation must be fully considered when developing systems.

Automation must assist and support ATCOs in the execution of their duties.

The Controller must remain the key element of the ATC system.

Total workload should not be increased without proof that the combined automated/human systems can operate safely at the levels of workload predicted, and to be able to satisfactorily manage normal and abnormal occurrences.

Automated tools or systems that support the control function must enable the controller to retain complete control of the control task in such a way so as to enable the controller to support timely interventions when situations occur that are outside the normal compass of the system design, or when abnormal situations occur which require non-compliance or variation to normal procedures.

Automation should be designed to enhance controller job satisfaction.

References

IFATCA Manual.

IFATCA Professional Manual.

Comments by Dr. Anthony Smoker, IFATCA SC1.

Last Update: September 28, 2020  

March 12, 2020   243   Jean-Francois Lepage    2001    

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