Proceedings of the

The 33rd European Safety and Reliability Conference (ESREL 2023)
3 – 8 September 2023, Southampton, UK

Safe Work Practice: Choosing the Right Level of Flight Deck Automation

Aud M. Wahl1,a, Tor Erik Evjemo2 and Aleksander Wessel Lind1

1Department of Industrial Economy and Technology Management, NTNU, Norway.

2DNV Energy Systems, Norway.


Automation in modern aircraft has been a major contributor to increased safety and efficiency in commercial flight operations the last decades. However, complexity of automation can reduce pilots' understanding and control of the aircraft thereby creating dangerous and even fatal situations. The objective of this qualitative study is to expand our understanding of human-automation interaction by examining how airline pilots use automation technology in a social and collaborative context. In-depth interviews with airline pilots describe situated practices on the flight deck and shed light on how the pilots collaborate and interact with automation. It is interesting to note that the level of automation is not regarded as a set entity throughout a flight, but is chosen strategically to reduce risk and based on an overall judgment of the operators' competence and situation factors such as weather and complexity of navigation. Automation is regarded both as an enabler as well as an obstacle for efficient teamwork. Our study shows how this distinct and proactive technology embedded practice facilitates a joint understanding of the situation at hand, an understanding imperative for the safe execution of flights.

Keywords: Aviation, Airline pilots, Automation technology, Situated work practice, Social processes, Human machine interaction.

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