Human factors analysis of Australian aviation accidents and comparison with the United States


This study provides a systematic analysis of the types of human error occurring in Australian civil aviation accidents. It also compares these results against a larger sample of accidents occurring in the United States. Inevitably, all humans make errors. But safety can be enhanced when the number and consequences of these errors are reduced. This paper aims to enhance aviation safety through extending our knowledge of aircrew errors.

While the types of accidents and flying operations varied slightly between Australia and the US, the pattern of aircrew errors were remarkably similar. Skill-based errors were the most prevalent type of aircrew unsafe act, followed by decision errors, violations and perceptual errors in both Australian and US accidents. Skill-based errors were also the most common error type irrespective of the severity of the accident. In Australia, decision errors and violations were more common in fatal accidents.

The trend data indicated that the proportion of accidents associated with skill-based errors did not change over the period studied, but decision errors decreased.

The distribution of unsafe acts across flying operation type indicated that skill-based errors were disproportionately higher in both general aviation and agricultural operations. Charter operations (called on-demand in the US) had a high proportion of violations and decision errors. The pattern of unsafe acts within each type of flying operation was broadly similar for Australian and US accidents.

The study demonstrated that the greatest gains in reducing aviation accidents could be achieved by reducing skill-based errors. Moreover, improvements in aeronautical decision making and the modification of risk-taking behaviour could reduce aviation fatalities. Further study is needed to both identify which particular skills need improving, and to investigate the importance of interactions between the error categories.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Publication date: 30 January 2007
Related: General Aviation
Last update 07 April 2014
Download complete document
[ Download PDF: 786KB]