This was in The Times today, I can see where they are coming from, but not being a pilot I might not understand all the real issues, what does everyone think. Being from Nottingham I remember the Kegworth disaster even though I was only quite young and I flightdeck design was a factor then it should be investigated.
By Ben Webster
PILOTS of modern jets are so overloaded by technical information during mid-air emergencies that they risk making wrong decisions that can result in disaster, a study has found.
Computerised control systems are so complex that they “overtax the mental capabilities of fully-trained pilots”, according to research by Newcastle and York universities.
They studied the Kegworth air disaster in which 47 people died when a British Midland Boeing 737 came down on the M1 in Leicestershire in 1989.
The pilots shut down the right-hand engine when the fault was in the left engine. They believed they had made the correct decision because, by chance, it coincided with the left engine ceasing to vibrate and emit fumes.
During the approach to East Midlands Airport the left engine lost power and the crew attempted to restart the right engine but were too late.
The research concluded that the pilots had made crucial decisions based on an “oversimplified picture of reality”.
Dr Denis Besnard, from Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science, said the human brain tried to understand a situation by simplifying it when presented with many complex and conflicting pieces of information.
He added: “The pilots of the Boeing 737 were caught in what is known as a confirmation bias where, instead of looking for contradictory evidence, humans tend to overestimate consistent data.
“A potential consequence is that people overlook and sometimes unconsciously disregard data they cannot explain.”
The team’s report, published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, called for cockpit computers to be redesigned.
Computers sometimes take unexpected decisions and provide raw information which the flight crew must analyse, the report said. They should instead anticipate problems and offer pilots ways of recovering from a crisis without overloading them with information.
The fully computerised cockpit was pioneered by the European manufacturer Airbus in the 1980s. With the so-called fly-by-wire system, pilots tap journey details into the flight management system and the plane then largely flies itself. If pilots need to intervene during flights it is usually because something has gone wrong.
David Learmount, safety editor of Flight International magazine, said some modern cockpit screens present information relevant only to the current phase of flight. Pilots no longer need to keep an eye on dozens of dials.
But the vast number of choices available to pilots when inputting information on the flight computer meant errors were possible.
A Boeing spokesman said: “Modern flight management systems are designed to reduce the workload of the pilot and increase safety. Flight- deck design is constantly incorporating human factors to aid decision-making and the pilot is very much part of the process from the outset.”