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crash analysis system helps investigators target main cause of airplane
Forrest , News Editor
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. A new
crash analysis system is helping accident investigators shed more light
on the main causal factor of aviation accidents: human error.
The Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS) developed
by Douglas A. Wiegmann, a professor in the University of Illinois Institute
of Aviation, and Scott A. Shappell of the Federal Aviation Administration
Aeromedical Institute is described in an article in the November issue
of Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine.
Rather than focusing solely upon the flight crew, HFACS examines human
error at all levels, from the cockpit to the operators supervisory
personnel and upper-level management. The system also analyzes the organizations
idiosyncratic corporate culture, policies and procedures as well as
adverse physiological or mental states and limitations, such as fatigue,
that can impair judgment or skills and result in crashes.
Wiegmann and Shappell developed the HFACS framework by
examining data from more than 300 U.S. Navy aviation accidents and honed
it using information from Army and Air Force safety centers, the National
Transportation Safety Board and the FAA. Under a three-year grant funded
by the FAA, the system is now being tested by a commercial airline.
While the accident reporting and analysis systems currently in use have
been effective at identifying mechanical and structural failures, they
have been far less effective at identifying the human errors responsible
for accidents, the researchers said. And it is human error that leads
to 70 to 80 percent of aviation accidents, according to Wiegmann and
"HFACS enables investigators to uncover the specific types of human
causal factors behind accidents," said Wiegmann, an expert in aviation
human factors research. "They can determine whether the problem
is skill-based, a perceptual problem or whether its attributable
to an organizational factor, such as inadequate supervision or poor
communication. Once the causal factors are known, the success or failure
of current intervention programs can be gauged and retooled if necessary
or new programs developed to address particular types of errors."
HFACS may also be applicable beyond the flight deck, to areas such as
aircraft maintenance and air traffic control, possibilities that will
be explored in future research.