Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Situational awareness is the accurate perception of the operational and environmental factors that affect the airplane, pilot, and passengers during a specific period of time. Maintaining situational awareness requires an understanding of the relative significance of these factors and their future impact on the flight. When situational aware, the pilot has an overview of the total operation and is not fixated on one perceived significant factor.

Some of the elements inside the airplane to be considered are the status of airplane systems, and also the pilot and passengers. In addition, an awareness of the environmental conditions of the flight, such as spatial orientation of the airplane, and its relationship to terrain, traffic, weather, and airspace must be maintained.

To maintain situational awareness, all of the skills involved in aeronautical decision making are used. For example, an accurate perception of pilot fitness can be achieved through self-assessment and recognition of hazardous attitudes. A clear assessment of the status of navigation equipment can be obtained through workload management, and establishing a productive relationship with ATC can be accomplished by effective resource use.

Fatigue, stress, and work overload can cause a pilot to fixate on a single perceived important item rather than maintaining an overall awareness of the flight situation. A contributing factor in many accidents is a distraction that diverts the pilot's attention from monitoring the instruments or scanning outside the airplane. Many cockpit distractions begin as a minor problem, such as a gauge that is not reading correctly, but result in accidents as the pilot diverts attention to the perceived problem and neglects to properly control the airplane.

Complacency presents another obstacle to maintaining situational awareness. When activities become routine, there is a tendency to relax and not put as much effort into performance. Like fatigue, complacency reduces a pilot's effectiveness in the cockpit. However, complacency is harder to recognize than fatigue, since everything is perceived to be progressing smoothly. For example, a pilot has not bothered to calculate the CG of the airplane because it has never been a problem. Without the pilot realizing it, a passenger loads a heavy piece of equipment in the nose baggage compartment. The pilot notices severe nose heaviness during climb-out after takeoff, and find it necessary to use full nose-up trim to maintain level flight.

As the pilot flares for landing, the elevator reaches the stop without raising the nose enough, and the nose-first landing results in loss of the nose gear and extensive damage to the airplane.

There are a number of classic behavioral traps into which pilots have been known to fall. Pilots, particularly those with considerable experience, as a rule, always try to complete a flight as planned please passengers, and meet schedules. The basic drive to meet or exceed goals can have an adverse effect on safety, and can impose an unrealistic assessment of piloting skills under stressful conditions. These tendencies ultimately may bring about practices that are dangerous and often illegal, and may lead to a mishap. A pilot will develop awareness and learn to avoid many of these operational pitfalls through effective ADM training.

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