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Are human pilots ill-suited for monitoring tasks?

There are many different tasks connected to flying commercial jets. One class of such tasks are monitoring tasks. These tasks involve monitoring computer-performed work during a flight. 

Oversights or miscues made in relation to monitoring tasks could be very impactful. They could result in important details being missed. This could cause delays in appropriate action being taken when corrective action is needed during a commercial flight. This could have significant consequences, perhaps even leading to the possibility of a commercial plane crash

Currently, many monitoring tasks are handled by human pilots. Unfortunately, a recent study indicates that, human pilots, generally, may not be that well-suited for these tasks.

In the study, researchers had 16 commercial airliner pilots perform monitoring tasks during simulated flights. The researchers looked at what sorts of things happened as the pilots performed these tasks.

The study found that, when the pilots were performing the tasks without interruption for extended periods of time, they were prone to mind-wandering. Mind-wandering by a pilot can result in monitoring mistakes.

On the flip side of things, the study also found it was problematic when pilots had their monitoring tasks interrupted by other tasks. The researchers found that these interruptions could result in monitoring miscues through distracting a pilot.

These findings raise the possibility that humans may be ill-suited for monitoring tasks and that avoiding monitoring miscues may be difficult for human pilots under any set of circumstances. The study's researchers pointed out one potential way to try to address this problem: shifting monitoring tasks away from human pilots and instead having them performed by computers.

Do you think human pilots are particularly prone to monitoring errors? Do you think automating monitoring tasks would be a good way to help prevent monitoring miscues? What would you like to see commercial airlines, airplane manufacturers and pilots do to try to reduce the likelihood of monitoring errors?

Source:, "Mission impossible? Study reveals challenges of watching computers fly the plane," Shelly Leachman, Oct. 1, 2015

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