Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Aviation- Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness in Aviation?

Situational awareness is a term used to describe a persons awareness of their surroundings, the meaning of these surroundings, a prediction of what these surroundings will mean in the future, and then using this information to act.
This can be simplified down into three key words:
Look - Think - Act
In aviation, there was a growing interest in understanding how pilots maintain awareness of the many complex and dynamic events that occur simultaneously in flight, and how this information was used to guide future actions. This increased interest was predominantly due to the vast quantities of sensor information available in the modern cockpit, coupled with the flightcrew’s ‘new’ role as a monitor of aircraft automation. The term ‘situation awareness’ (SA) was adopted to describe the processes of attention, perception, and decision making that together form a pilot’s mental model of the current situation . Today, SA is one of the most prominent research topics in the aviation Human Factors field.
Situational Awareness is a key part of the decision-making process. It is important that we have a full idea about what is going on, to make the best decision possible each time.

1. Perception of elements in the current situation

“The first step in achieving SA involves perceiving the status, attributes, and dynamics of relevant elements in the environment. The pilot needs to accurately perceive information about his/her aircraft and its systems (airspeed, position, altitude, route, direction of flight, etc.), as well as weather, air traffic control clearances, emergency information, and other pertinent elements”This means gathering all the information that is currently available to you. For example, a Pilot needs to get information from many sources, including inside the aircraft (instruments, fuel information, engine state, passenger welfare), and outside the aircraft (other aircraft, weather, navigation)

2. Comprehension of current situation

“Comprehension of the situation is based on a synthesis of disjointed Level 1 elements. Level 2 SA goes beyond simply being aware of the elements that are present to include an understanding of the significance of those elements in light of the pilot’s goals. Based upon knowledge of Level 1 elements, particularly when put together to form patterns with other elements, a holistic picture of the environment will be formed, including a comprehension of the significance of information and events”.This means using the information that has been gathered in step one to form a mental picture of the current situation. For example I am now flying in straight and level flight, there is an aircraft over to my left that is traveling in the opposite direction, I have used more fuel than I was expecting at this point, and my passenger does not like the turbulence we are experiencing

3. Projection of future status

“It is the ability to project the future actions of the elements in the environment, at least in the near term, that forms the third and highest level of Situation Awareness. This is achieved through knowledge of the status and dynamics of the elements and a comprehension of the situation (both Level 1 and Level 2 SA)”.This means anticipating what will happen next and using this expectation to make decisions. For example, I will maintain my heading to avoid the other aircraft, I will need to land at the next airfield to refuel so I can make it to my destination, and in the meantime I will climb to a higher level to lessen the turbulence so my passenger is more comfortable.

Factors Affecting Situational Awareness

System design - The ergonomics of a system are very important. If the information is presented in a user-friendly way, the individual will be able to gain the information they require more easily, improving situational awareness.
Stress and Workload - Stress affects our ability to process information. If we are in a high stress/high workload situation, we will not be able to process as much information. This could significantly affect our situational awareness. It is very important to actively manage stress, whether it be short or long-term.
Automation - An individual needs to keep themselves active in monitoring automatic systems. For example, in an aircraft, just because you have put the aircraft on autopilot, does not mean you can sit back and read a newspaper. You need to keep actively monitoring the flight instruments and controls. Automation can also be used in high workload situations to prevent mental overload, by removing the need for the pilot to control the aircraft.
Physiological Factors - Factors such as illness and medication can have a drastic effect on information processing, and therefore on situational awareness. Pilots should use theIMSAFE model to monitor their health and well-being.
Preconceptions - Often when we have a a preconception about what is going to happen, we try and match information to this idea, insteed of seeing what is actually going on. If we do not have a full level of situational awareness, this can lead to carrying out incorrect, and potentially harmful actions. Some examples of this would be succumbing to avisual illusion, or not following an air traffic control clearance correctly.
Abilities/ Experience/ Training - If you have trained for a situation, you are more likely to execute the correct actions when it occurs in real life. Also if your training is current, it is more likely that this will be an automatic response. This is partly because you know what the situation  looks like and can anticipate what is going to happen. This is why in flight training, we repeat exercises where a critical response is required, such as Stalling and Engine failures.

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