The International Writers Magazine:
Safety in the Skies
In June 2007, I embarked upon a summer school entitled, “Aviation Psychology summer school” which was based at the University of Graz in Austria.
This course is one of the qualifications in order to become a certified Aviation Psychologist as part of the organisation, the European Association for Aviation Psychology.
Graz itself is the 2nd largest city in Austria, but has only 250,000 inhabitants. Even the airport is so small that it only handles 50-100 flights a day. But compared to Heathrow this is small. We even made a visit to the control tower and spoke with the Air Traffic controllers and got a glimpse of all the technology involved. It was extremely interesting to see how it all worked. It's pretty simple really, recording is done of aircraft movements in the airspace that the Tower controls. Their duties will include aircraft movements on the ground and in the vicinity as well as directing airlines for approach, landing and take-off.
The whole week was spent studying aviation psychology which simply is the study of the psychology of the pilot and the human-computer interaction with the airplane. Topics included Crew Resource Management (communication between 1st officer and captain and their personalities and potential conflicts). Others; air traffic control, airline accidents and their prevention, communication on the airport ground, health and safety. Pilot personality, cognitive approach vis a vis intelligence, memory, spatial awareness, g forces, physiological,etc.
All in all, very interesting! Studies were also made of various accidents in the last 20 years, including most notably, the crash at Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989, where a DC-10 United flight lost ALL hydraulics. This means that was no way to control the aircraft by conventional means, but only with engine thrust, i.e. to move right increase thrust on the left engine. 150 died but 190 survived approx, and which was an incredible story and which the pilots got top bravery awards in the USA, as it was certain that everyone was going to die.
Airline travel is becoming more and more safer. The last airline disaster in the UK was in 1989. The last British Airways crash was 1976. Think about all the planes taking off and landing everyday, even just at Heathrow, must be 1000s in just a few days. It is predominantly safe and far far safer then driving or rail travel (problems in the UK with well known rail accidents in the past few years).
Essentially an aviation psychologist is an ergonomist or human factors specialist who deal with safety in aviation, its improvement and prevention. They differ slightly from Accident Investigators (NTSB/AAIB) but rather are a great compliment to the accident investigation scene.
In summary, many friends were made from Austria, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Hungary. The dinners and many conversations were of particular interest including talks till 4am on a great variety of topics including the holocaust, politics and aviation. The next event scheduled is 2011 and I cant wait!
© Nicky Millman July 2010
milkface at hotmail.co.uk