The Limits of Expertise: Rethinking Pilot Error and the Causes of Airline Accidents

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Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., Jan 1, 2007 - Transportation - 352 pages
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The Limits of Expertise reports a study of the 19 major U.S. airline accidents from 1991-2000 in which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found crew error to be a causal factor. Each accident is reported in a separate chapter that examines events and crew actions and explores the cognitive processes in play at each step. The majority of all aviation accidents are attributed to human error, but this is often misinterpreted as evidence of lack of skill, vigilance, or conscientiousness of the pilots. Why would highly skilled, well-trained pilots make errors performing tasks they had successfully executed many thousands of times in previous flights? The approach is guided by extensive evidence from cognitive psychology that human skill and error are opposite sides of the same coin. The book examines the ways in which competing task demands, ambiguity and organizational pressures interact with cognitive processes to make all experts vulnerable to characteristic forms of error. the role of chance, criticizes simplistic concepts of causality of accidents, and suggests ways to reduce vulnerability to these catastrophes. The authors' complementary experience allowed a unique approach to the study: accident investigation with the NTSB, cognitive psychology research both in the lab and in the field, enormous first-hand experience of piloting, and application of aviation psychology in both civil and military operations. This combination allowed the authors to examine and explain the domain-specific aspects of aviation operations and to extend advances in basic research in cognition to complex issues of human performance in the real world. Although The Limits of Expertise is directed to aviation operations, the implications are clear for understanding the decision processes, skilled performance and errors of professionals in many domains, including medicine.

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USAir 1016 Windshear Encounter
TWA 843 The Power of Suggestion
American 1572 Accumulation of Small Errors
American International 808 The Strobe Light that Wasnt There
Southwest 1455 Unstabilized Approach at Burbank
FedEx 14 PilotInduced Oscillations in the Landing Flare
Ryan 590 A Minute Amount of Contamination
Tower 41 Loss of Control During a Slippery Runway Takeoff
Air Transport International 805 Disorientation Loss of Control and the Need to Intervene
American 903 Loss of Control at Altitude
Simmons 3641 Over the Gates and into Forbidden Territory
American 1340 Autopilot Deviation Just Prior to Landing
Delta 554 Undershot Landing at LaGuardia
American 1420 Pressing the Approach
FlightcrewRelated Accident Data Comparison of the 19781990 and 19912001 Periods
Converging Themes The Deep Structure of Accidents

Continental 1943 GearUp Landing in Houston
American 102 Runway Excursion After Landing
Continental 795 HighSpeed Takeoff Decision with Poor Information
USAir 405 Snowy Night at LaGuardia
ValuJet 558 Two Missing Words and a Hard Landing Short of the Runway

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Page 331 - Arkes, HR. & Blumer, C. (1985). The psychology of sunk cost. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124-140.
Page 333 - K. (1998). Cockpit interruptions and distractions: Effective management requires a careful balancing act. ASRS Directline, 10, 4-9.

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About the author (2007)

Dr Dismukes is Chief Scientist for Human Factors in the Human Factors Research & Technology Division at NASA Ames Research Center. His current research addresses cognitive issues involved in the skilled performance of pilots, their ability to manage challenging situations, and their vulnerability to error; prospective memory; and management of attention in concurrent task performance. Captain Berman is a senior research associate at San Jose State University/NASA Ames Research Center and flies the Boeing 737 for a major air carrier. He is the former Chief of Major Investigations of the U.S. National Transportation Board, where he previously led the Operational Factors Division, served as a member of the major accident go-team responsible for flight operations, and managed safety studies. Dr Loukopoulos is a Senior Research Associate at NASA's Human Factors Research and Technology Division. She currently resides in Athens, Greece where she serves as a human factors consultant to the Greek Air Accident Investigation and Safety Board and where she served on the Helios Airways 2005 accident investigation. She also continues her collaboration with NASA through the San Jose State University Foundation.

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