“Human error is now the principal threat to flight safety,” according to an article by Don Harris in the February 2014 issue of The Psychologist, the magazine of the British Psychological Society.
Harris, a member of the human systems integration group at Coventry University, said there’s actually more to the problem than simply pointing to human weaknesses. “Although there is increasing recognition of the importance of the human component in aviation safety, further work is required. The science base and regulations still lag behind changes in the nature of modern flight operations.” Aviation psychology is, of course, designed to help reduce human error.
Interestingly, Harris questions the relevance of Jim Reason’s Swiss cheese model of error prevention in an era when many new airlines around the world operate without the benefit of an organizational system like the one upon which Reason’s work relies. “Today more work is outsourced and contracted out,” he said. “Airlines operate into a wide range of airports (none of which they own), and maintenance is often provided by third parties. Some low-cost carriers may not even own their aircraft, or employ their own ground and check-in personnel. In extreme cases, they don’t even employ their own pilots…the person making the final error may not be one of the victims of [an impending] accident. Safety management now has to extend beyond the immediate organization.” To Harris that means realizing that aviation psychology “needs to take an integrated, long-term approach to tracking human-related costs and safety issues, significant wide-ranging benefits will accrue.”