Safety behaviours: human factors for pilots

Australian Government - Civil Aviation Safety Authority - Safety behaviours: human factors for pilots (2nd edition)
Safety behaviours: human factors for pilots (2nd edition) cover

While we cannot eliminate human error, understanding human factors principles can help you to mitigate its adverse impact on aviation safety. Recognising when you 'got it right' will also enable you to build on these positive examples of human factors for a safer operation.

This second edition of the kit features:

  • new booklet topics
  • new series of videos
  • interviews with human factors experts, industry operators, pilots and instructors
  • a dedicated video covering each of the resource booklet topics (with the exception of resource booklet 8).


The Safety Behaviours: human factors for pilots workbook provides case studies and practical exercises to consolidate your understanding of the information in the 10 resource booklets.

The workbook can be downloaded and filled in electronically.

Resource booklet 1: Introduction

The term ‘human factors’ refers to the wide range of issues affecting how people perform tasks in their work and non-work environments. The study of human factors involves applying knowledge about the human body and mind to better understand human capabilities and limitations, so there is the best possible fit between people and the systems in which they operate.

Human factors are the social and personal skills (for example communication and decision making) which complement technical skills. Understanding and applying human factors is crucial for safety because of the continued threat of accidents, particularly in low capacity and charter air transport operations.

Airtime: drama in the air

Resource booklet 2: Safety culture

The beliefs, attitudes, norms and values that people within an organisation share are described as the organisational culture. Informally, you can describe culture as 'the way we do things around here'.

Safety culture is an essential part of organisational culture: it affects the way the organisation manages safety and therefore, the ultimate effectiveness of its safety management system (SMS).

Every organisation has a safety culture, but some are better than others. Professor James Reason probably described it best. He said, 'an ideal safety culture is the 'engine' that drives the system towards the goal of sustaining the maximum resistance towards its operational hazards regardless of current commercial concerns or leadership style'.

Resource booklet 3: Human performance

Fatigue, stress, high workload and struggling to stay healthy are constant issues for charter pilots. Depending on how they are managed, they can be a simple daily challenge or an overwhelming problem which adversely affects performance. This booklet provides practical information that charter pilots can use to stay both physically and mentally fit to fly.

In September 2019 CASA updated the fatigue rules (CAO 48.1 Instrument 2019). This resource was correct at time of publishing. However, in the event of any inconsistency between this resource and the fatigue rules, the fatigue rules will prevail.

Resource booklet 4: Communication

Regardless of whether you are a single-pilot operation or fly for a large organisation, effective communication is a critical part of your flying operations. Misunderstandings and communication failures cost time and money, and at worst, compromise safety, as some of the case studies in this booklet show.

Clear communication can be the difference between safe flight and aircraft accidents. A communication misunderstanding, for example, was a key causal factor in the Tenerife accident which caused the greatest loss of life in aviation to date, 583 people.

Resource booklet 5: Teamwork

Effective teamwork is critical in high-risk industries such as aviation. Successful teamwork occurs when every member of a team – on the ground and in the air – performs and contributes in the best way possible to achieve a common goal. Individual performances are not the primary focus—it is the collective performance of the team which matters the most.

An effective team manager recognises that individuals have different strengths and limitations, but ensures, through communication, programs and culture, that the individuals work together in a coordinated manner to achieve team goals. Teamwork can have a major impact on successful operational risk and safety management.

Resource booklet 6: Situational awareness

How many aircraft accident investigation reports have you read where one of the contributing factors has been identified as the crew lost situational awareness, or the pilot did not maintain situational awareness? In other words, the pilot or crew did not maintain the big picture and think ahead. Loss of situational awareness (SA) continues to be identified frequently in Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reports.

Situational awareness is one of the most critical cognitive skills a pilot needs. It sounds like a simple concept, but many things can lead to your situational awareness being compromised. They include ineffective communication, fatigue and stress, high workload and challenging environmental conditions.

Resource booklet 7: Decision making

Flying is a dynamic activity, sometimes requiring quick decisions to ensure a safe and successful flight. Pilots must be vigilant and be prepared to take action to counter hazards and unexpected situations.

Most of the time, pilots will be well practised, and avoid errors in decisions and actions. However, unexpected circumstances such as the sudden onset of bad weather or a passenger falling seriously ill, will require non-routine decisions. Circumstances such as time constraints, tight deadlines and fatigue levels can also affect decision making.

Resource booklet 8: Threat and error management

The threat and error management (TEM) concept, developed at the University of Texas in the late 1990s, looks at how airline flight crew respond to external threats and internal errors that could lead to undesired aircraft states during flight.

The TEM model can be used to analyse a single event, or to understand systemic patterns within a large set of events. It can also be used to help clarify human performance needs, strengths and vulnerabilities, and as a training tool to help an organisation improve the effectiveness of its training interventions, and consequently its organisational safeguards.

Resource booklet 9: Human information processing

Whether you are a single pilot flying VFR or flying a multi-crew, multi-engine jet under IFR, operating at a busy metro airport or at a bush landing strip, your performance is influenced by factors such as age, health, stress, experience, distractions, the environment and individual information processing limitations.

You need to be aware of how your ability to process information affects your performance and situational awareness, and how this varies from day to day, place to place and task to task.

Resource booklet 10: Design and automation

Since the early years of powered flight, there has been much discussion about how design and automation influence pilot workload and flight safety.

The interaction between people and machines has generated ongoing and extensive research. This booklet considers the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to aircraft design and automation. It stresses the importance of understanding the strengths and limitations of technology, and training which takes these into account.

Resource booklet videos

Learn more about each booklet through theses videos (with the exception of booklet 8):

Additional videos

The following videos are designed to be short, but to the point to test your human factors skills. See how well you fare after watching these videos.

Balls up in the hangar

In the balls up in the hangar video do your best to focus on the task at hand. Have you observed all that is happening?

How many different components can you identify?

Is this just a conversation between a pilot and an engineer – or can you see anything else? Watch how many different components can you identify?

Delayed flight

The delayed flight video shows more than a conversation of a delayed flight – but what else is going on?

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