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Human Performance and Limitations in Pilot Training –
No Link between Classroom and Cockpit?

Mag. rer. nat. MARION VENUS, Venus Aviation Training and Support


The Germanwings crash in 2015, LAM crash (2013), SilkAir (1997), EgyptAir  (1999), the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370 (2014) showed, that airline pilots are not only very well trained, extremely controlled high performers, deep inside they are also human. A recent study of the Harvard School of Public Health revealed, that 12.6% of the airline pilots are depressed (PHQ-9), 4.1% are having suicidal thoughts, while they are on flight duty. The self-reporting of the mentally severely sick first officer, mandatory according to Part-MED, did not work. The mental fitness assessment for the mandatory medical certification did not raise any suspicion, although the Medical Class 1 of this pilot had a clear waiver due to a severe depressive and suicidal phase at the very beginning of his basic flight training.

About 20 years ago EASA made Human Performance and Limitations (HPL) a mandatory theory topic for all pilots at all levels (e.g. gliders, LAPL, PPL, CPL, IFR up to ATPL) for airplanes and helicopters. Ab initio pilots get good HPL-theory-training by instructors, who may be meteorologists, nurses or physicians at their ATO.


Research Question:

The theory topic Human Performance and Limitations is taught in classroom or self-study. It is very sophisticated, usually written by scientists for scientists. It is usually far from personal experience and skill training. Lots of content is highly irrelevant in emergency situations like aircraft upset. It is usually written in a foreign language, and evaluated in a highly questionable multiple choice test.

These may be contributing factors, why pilots hardly apply this largely incomprehensible topic in flight operations. And there is another reason, why this Human Performance and Limitations theory has little relevance for many pilots: At the EASA Germanwings Conferences pilot unions pointed out, that pilots also have good reasons to hide potential decrease in medical fitness they are aware of: Because they would jeopardize their Medical Class 1 and their pilot career.



The present pool of HPL learning objectives, current more than 15 years old multiple choice questions for the evaluation of HPL-knowledge are shown and analyzed. They are compared with the present hot topics in Human Performance and Limitations, like fatigue despite the application of the new rules of flight time limitations (FRMS), effects of fatigue on mental health, the new EASA CRM training topics like upset recovery training, startle and surprise, resilience, etc.



Methods are shown, how a deeper understanding of Human Performance and Limitations theory could be achieved, connection theory and skill training. Better ways of effective evaluation of HPL knowledge are shown, as well as the necessity of in depth training of flight-instructors (train the trainer). it will be pointed out, how pilots’ deeper understanding of HPL could lead to more aviation safety.



July 2024
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