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February 2006 edition

Coping with Computers in the Cockpit

by Sidney Dekker & Erik Hollnagel Ashgate Publishing Ltd

Reviewed by Dr Rashid Ali, senior lecturer in avionics and aerospace systems at the University of Hertfordshire, UK

Avionics, as a generic vehicle for automation has been evolving with computer technologies, and has seen major advances both in terms of application software and hardware. Technological advances in the aviation industry have resulted in a very different breed of aircraft to yesteryear and greater system integration has been made possible by the use of computer technology. The impact of this technology has been most profound in the pilot’s workplace, the cockpit. "Coping with Computers in the Cockpit", deals with the implications of this technology.

A crucial element of cockpit automation is software. The authors discuss the impact of automation and its wider implications but do not indicate how the software technologies impact upon the design of future automation systems and a plethora of issues surrounding the certification of such systems. One leading question that invariably arises in the minds of software engineers is whether the software can be certified by the regulators independently of the hardware. A lot more research is needed to establish software integrity and its interface with the crew in the cockpit.

Automation impacts on human cognition, and the authors put forward important research results on human performance and outline the required investments in human expertise and automation. They then continue to develop this theme through a series of chapters by providing guidance to human-automation design, presenting the theoretical and practical challenges of designing feedback to make automation a team player and reviewing existing research on crew awareness in glass cockpits. The Boeing 737 crash on the UK’s M1 motorway in 1989 highlights the awareness issues surrounding glass cockpits. In this case, the pilots did not have much training in the use of the FMS installed in the aircraft, and were not able to disseminate the information provided by the glass instruments correctly. So the issues covered by the authors in this respect should alert any potential engineer of the possible pitfalls and the breakdown of the man-machine interface.

The issue of certification from the manufacturers’ and regulators’ point of view is also raised. The inability of existing certification processes to identify man-machine interaction flaws is examined and outlines measures likely to be adopted by JAR in the future. One chapter is devoted to how envisioned systems of the future are likely to be assessed and the implications they pose on certification. The authors view flying automated aircraft as a cockpit resource management issue, and enforce the view that, the impact of automation on the flying and management task in the modern cockpit should be addressed at the ab initio level. With increasing levels of automation, do we need a pilot in the cockpit, or a systems operator? If the pilot is there to provide backup, then should he not be trained as a systems engineer, data analyst and expert software user? At what stage do we need to start the pilot training with glass cockpits in mind? Fortunately, for the recreational flyer operating under VFR conditions, the impact of the automation is not pronounced. However, newer light aircraft are being equipped with TFT or glass displays, with integrated FMS systems. Such systems blur the traditional boundaries of what constitutes piloting skills, so I concur with the authors’ view that we need to take stock of the pilot training, and reassess the curriculum for both the PPL and the ATPL training needs.

The book serves as a first stop for gaining insight into the issues surrounding automation from the pilots’, regulators’ and airlines’ standpoint. Many articles in the book illustrate the scenarios where an incident has occurred due to breakdown of communication and misinterpretation of information. We need to evolve strategies that enable us to have a uniform and consistent perception of information, and furthermore have communication procedures that enable accurate relay and feedback of such information.

To receive a 15% discount please quote reference code G05CF when placing your order to the contact details below

Gower Publishing Direct, Sales, Bookpoint limited, 130 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4SB, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1235 827730

Fax: +44 (0)1235 400454

Email: ashgate@bookpoint.co.uk

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