Impact of stress on flight safety downplayed by pilots according to new study

Image courtesy of Airbus.

A new study suggests that General Aviation (GA) pilots downplay the impact of stress on flight safety compared to factors such as inclement weather.

The research, conducted by the University of Aberdeen, presented 101 pilots with a series of 12 take-off scenarios across four categories – compromised performance (pilot stressed, fatigued or ill), environmental hazards (thunderstorm, ice, wind), faulty equipment (power, noise, ASI) and missing equipment (checklist, sunglasses, seatbelt).

Pilots were then asked if they would proceed in each scenario and to explain their reasoning.  

The study showed that GA pilots were more likely to take off than not in scenarios involving a pilot under stress, or missing equipment such as checklists or sunglasses. However, they were less likely to proceed in scenarios depicting a pilot who was ill, an aircraft with a faulty air speed indicator, or a faulty seatbelt.

Dr Amy Irwin, who led the study, said: “General Aviation pilots are generally safety conscious, but not all risks are considered equal, so it is important to highlight the potential impact of stress on flight safety going forward to encourage pilots to consider the risks of flying stressed.”

General aviation is the largest, and most dangerous category of flight in the UK and these pilots frequently fly for recreational or business purposes and, unlike commercial aviation pilots, often fly alone. Risk perception and management are therefore key areas of research vital to improve safety in this group.  

Postgraduate researcher Nejc Sedlar who worked on the project added: “In terms of decision making, GA pilots face very different challenges than their commercial counterparts.  To address these GA specific challenges, studies like this are necessary so we can better understand potential areas of concern for future safety and training programmes.”

About Anttoni James Numminen 16 Articles
Anttoni is a freelance journalist and aviation enthusiast based in Scotland. You can usually find him on Twitter discussing current affairs, aviation and occasionally politics @A_James_Esq.