Adonis Diaries

The Peltzman effects in Safety? Relying on high-tech gadgets? What is human factors safety in aviation?

Posted on: February 18, 2011

The Peltzman effects:  What is human factors safety in aviation?

I read two posts yesterday related to safety issues in airplane pilot training and human factors performance indicators.  I did comment on these posts and decided to publish an article.  On the Peltzman effect post I will abridge, edit, and retain the main ideas:

“What is the Peltzman effect you ask?  The Peltzman effect (named after an economist, Sam Peltzman) is where the addition of a safety device allows people to feel so much safer in the activity they’re engaged in, and thus, the participant of said activity takes on more and more risk to the point where the safety device produces an opposite effect, leading to injury and/or fatalities. So what does this have to do with aviation?

A while back, a technology company called Garmin introduced to the “light aircraft” market a super cool avionics platform called the G1000. Integrating the G1000 with an autopilot system and you have what the FAA consider a technically advanced aircraft (TAA).

When this was first introduced to the general public, there was an incessant amount of hype about how this advanced flight deck will improve safety of flight, increase pilot situational awareness, and reduce accident rates. Today, we know that this is far from the truth.

As a matter of fact, recent FAA and NTSB data indicates that these TAA are actually more accident prone than initially suggested compared to their conventional counterparts.

How can this be? These things practically fly themselves, no? Of course, the human factors always rears its ugly head into the mix.

What has been discovered is that pilots over rely on the technology.

A few pilots even use the technology to compensate the lack of piloting skills and proficiency, incorrectly thinking that the technology will somehow “save” them in a bad situation. This thinking alone probably is the culprit for some fatal accidents we see in the field.

Having spoken to many pilots, I’ve discovered a common theme amongst them: The reliance on GPS and advanced avionics is staggering; to the point that pilots will rely on almost anything that resembles a moving map, regardless of whether the technology is proven or not, legal or not.

Granted there’s the “gee whiz” factor in devices like the iPad and portable GPS units, but to rely on these devices solely for flight operations is just asking for trouble. Some pilots will refuse to fly an airplane without a moving map GPS unit on board. Even if you offer these pilots a rental rate that’s 50% less than retail, they will rather pay full price for the airplane with a moving map GPS.

The only speculation I can come up with is that pilots have become complacent as a result of technology. We have handed over our instinct and sense of responsibility to these technological marvels. The end result is that when the high-tech fails, the low-tech pilot can no longer scale down the automation ladder to maintain flight safety.

The most recent hype is the use of iPad in flight operations.

And yes, pilots will consistently tell me, “I always have charts on board when flying with my iPad.” I wonder. If you have those charts on board, why not just use the charts? I’m willing to bet that these pilots will use the iPad as their primary source of information when flying while their chart sits neatly folded in their flight bag in the backseat.

There has already been an airspace incursion out on the west coast when a pilot was using an iPad for navigation. A GPS is a GPS right? This pilot found out the hard way that an iPad GPS is not suitable for navigation. But pilots still tout loudly about how remarkable it is to be flying with an iPad! I wonder how long it will be before we see accidents attributed to the iPad.

Even if you have the G1000 on board, the manuals will specifically state that you should not rely on the moving map for pilotage, nor should you use the traffic information system to maneuver your airplane for collision avoidance.

The manufacturer specifically states that the pilot should be doing what the pilot should be doing. That is, to navigate with a current chart, flight data, and use your eyes to see and avoid other traffic.  With all this technology, and yet the manufacturer still want to bring pilots back to the basics as the pilots are eager to hand over their situational awareness to the electrons. Talk about the brewing of a perfect storm.

I’m not against using technology or advanced avionics. I think it’s a fantastic addition to the “light airplane sector” and has the potential to increase flight safety and situational awareness when used correctly and responsibly. What I’m concerned with is the abuse and complacency that pilots will introduce either on purpose or by laziness.

Another example of the Peltzman effect involves a Cirrus SR22 cruising at 11,000 feet when it suffered an engine failure. The pilot attempted to glide the airplane into an airport but realized that they were going to be short.  At 500 feet above the ground, the pilot opted to deploy the chute.

The Information Manual for the SR22 specifically states that a chute deployment decision should be made prior to 2,000 above the ground. While the manufacturer does not specify a minimum altitude for chute deployment, it does make a statement that deployment below 2,000 feet has to be immediate to maximize survivability. By inference, the closer to the ground you are when you deploy the chute, the less survivable it is.

One has to wonder about the pilot’s skills when on a visual meteorological condition (VMC) day, and at 11,000 feet how the pilot was not able to find a suitable field to land regardless of having a parachute system on board.

Pilots must recognize and practice in their flying that systems were designed to provide enhanced flight safety and efficiency, but they do have limitations that must be observed and respected. To allow one’s piloting skills erode and hope that the technology will save the day is foolhardy”.

I replied to that article: “The Peltzman effect does not apply in your cases: Relying on new gadgets as “safety” equipments or safety extensions are not reliable safety additions. If high-speed trains are run with automatic pilots and are used by passengers, it is because human cannot control a train at such a high-speed, whatever training they get. I doubt passengers will board an airplane without human pilots.

Cutting down on cost for properly training airplane pilots is the culprit: Cutting down cost on this important factor has nothing safe about it. Safety procedures and constant monitoring the application of safety procedures is the price to pay for safety habits“.

Another post mentioned at a panel published 10 human factors performance indicators and insisted that the study is not yet meant for “mature guidance”.

I replied: “Human factors performance indicators have been studied and analyzed for over 40 years; whatever reports are published from now on must be within the realm of “mature guidance”. There are so many redundant reports published just to satisfy a stupid grand from funders who have excess money for tax-break purposes. 

It is about time to consider the human factors in every field of application that relate to safety, health, depression… in workplaces, in job satisfaction, in the redesign of products and services…

And not just economic performances for increasing productivity and reducing cost on safety training and cutting down on frequent monitoring safety procedures.”

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

February 2011
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