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The interpretation and use of weather radar displays in aviation


This project investigated the use of weather radar displays in commercial aviation. Three studies are described.

The first study used an expertise model of the use of weather radar displays to classify aircraft accident and incident reports. The three data sources used were the Federal Aviation Administration Accident/Incident Data System, the National Transportation Safety Board Accident and Incident Database, and the Aviation Safety Reporting System. Although generalisation of the outcomes is limited, the results provide some evidence to suggest that where the use of weather radar was implicated in an aircraft accident or incident, the error was most likely to be associated with a failure to recognise and/or interpret the information on the display.

Study Two involved a cognitive interview of experienced commercial pilots and their use of weather radar displays to assist in the management of flight. The results revealed a relatively consistent response which emphasised the timely and accurate interpretation of radar 'paints' as the basis for successful performance. It was apparent that, for some pilots, the process involved the development and application of''rules-of-thumb' and that these rules had been acquired through experience.

The results of Studies One and Two provided the basis for the development of a survey that was distributed to pilots both in hard-copy and on-line via the internet. Respondents were asked to provide information about their use of weather radar displays, describe an incident involving the use or misuse of weather radar displays, and give their interpretations of a series of 12 simulated weather radar 'paints'. In the case of the incidents described by the respondents, the results indicated that the majority of cases were related to the recognition and interpretation of the information on displays, consistent with the outcomes of Study One.

In relation to the simulated weather radar 'paints', the results indicated that while the interpretation of some of the displays was relatively consistent, the responses to other displays were less consistent between respondents. These differences were not due to demographic features such as age or experience, but appeared due to the level of ambiguity associated with the displays. Specifically, for some displays, it appeared that the key cues necessary for the successful interpretation of the information were either difficult to interpret or were absent. This outcome forms the basis for a number of recommendations concerning improvements in training, education and the design of weather radar displays.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Author(s): Dr Mark Wiggins
Publication date: 1 April 2005
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Last update 07 April 2014
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