Dangerous distraction: An examination of accidents and incidents involving pilot distraction in Australia between 1997 and 2004


An examination of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's aviation occurrence database indicates that distraction has contributed to a number of aviation safety accidents and incidents. The purpose of this study was to (i) examine the characteristics of pilot distraction (ii) explore the range of distraction sources that have contributed to aviation safety occurrences, and (iii) develop a taxonomy of pilot distraction. In total, 325 occurrences were identified using the database. The results showed that the majority of occurrences were incidents rather than accidents or serious incidents. Distraction affected all operational groups and occurred during all phases of flight, including both ground and in-flight phases. Although most occurrences did not result in injuries, there were two accidents in which fatal injuries were sustained by the pilot-in-command. Many sources of pilot distraction were associated with equipment malfunctions, problems communicating on the radio, passengers, and weather. The sources of distraction provided the basis for the development of a taxonomy of pilot distraction. When applied to the dataset, the results indicated that the majority of distraction sources could be grouped into the categories of 'flight management tasks', 'external objects', and 'people on board the aircraft'. In summary, the findings suggested that distractions can affect a pilot operating in any type of organisation, from small regional operations to large commercial airlines. Distractions can arise unexpectedly, during periods of high or low workload, or during any phase of the flight. The report concludes with a number of tentative suggestions for minimising the risk of pilot distraction.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Publication date: 27 February 2006
ISBN: 1 877071 97 8
Last update 07 April 2014
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