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One of the key elements in conducting a safe, efficient and comfortable flight is to effectively manage the workload associated with the flight operations and its different phases.

What is workload management?

Workload is defined as the demand placed on an operator’s mental resources used for attention, perception, reasonable decision-making and action. It has many variables: from the work environment, the flights phases to the pilot/crew abilities experience, tools and more.

Workload management is entirely influenced by human factor and therefore has been a challenge in the aviation industry. Constantly evolving together with the cockpit design, the automation, training, procedures, tools, technology does however evolve faster than the ability to predict how humans will interact and react with it. Despite rapid gains in technology, we, humans, are responsible for ensuring the efficiency and safety of the aviation industry.

Workload can be categorised into 3 categories:

  • Critical: Requires immediate attention/response

  • Important: Requires attention & response, may become critical

  • Routine: Normal condition (ex. Cruise)

Workload can be shared between a flight crew or managed by a single pilot. Typically, a flight crew is composed of a Captain and a First officer where one is assigned as the Pilot Flying (PF) and the other crew as the Pilot Monitoring or Pilot Non Flying (PM/PNF).

PF duties:

  • Flight path

  • Navigation

  • Aircraft configuration

  • Procedure initiation

PM/PNF duties:

  • Flight path, Aircraft configuration and systems monitoring

  • Communication (may be transferred to PF during Emergency or abnormal Checklist)

  • Checklist reading

Note: These duties may slightly differ upon the operator.

In most general aviation operations, however, a Single Pilot would have to perform by himself all these duties. The Single Pilot will have to manage the following:

  • Navigation

  • Communication

  • Monitor the weather

  • Check documentation

  • Perform the procedures and read the checklist

  • Configure the aircraft

And more…

More importantly though, a Single Pilot will have to cross check his own tasks, as there is no one else to do so in his place. This removes a critical layer of monitoring and redundancy. Therefore, workload management as a Single pilot implies more competences, energy, concentration, especially in IMC, and high workload flight phases.

What are the flight phases considered as high workload?

The flight phases considered as high workload are:

  • Preflight

  • Engine start

  • Push back, Taxi out/in

  • Take off, initial climb, Standard instrument departure (SID)

  • Preparation for descent/approach

  • Approach, Landing, Go-around

  • Adverse Weather

  • Busy environment

  • Uncommon situations, Malfunctions

  • Emergency situations

  • Training/Evaluation

What are the risks involved in these phases?

In short, Pilot Overload and Tasks Saturation

In more details, the potential hazards of such flight phases may create safety risks because errors can be induced if the tasks demanded exceed an individual’s capabilities. According to the National Business Aviation Association, which ranks task saturation as one of its top 10 safety concerns, the incidence of pilot overload is on the rise (Tendency of overreliance on automations)

Human resources are limited, so, at some point, a specific task will exceed the amount of capacity available in each and everyone. We all have a different amount of resources to apply to the task at hand, depending on our experience, skills, abilities, confidence, self-awareness, competences and training.

Because of these differences, a given task will not produce the same workload level for all operators. A given task will also produce different workload for the same operator at a different time depending on his or her state when the task has to be performed.

For these reason, we must know our limits and we must keep a safety margin. We must learn to recognize when overload is occurring and then proceed methodically, remember the golden rules and reassess the priorities.

How to manage these risks?

To consistently maintain that “safety margin”, we must observe an adequate SRM/CRM (Single pilot Resource Management/Crew Resource Management) in order to balance the workload through a flight, and anticipate the expected increase of workloads at each phase.

If a level of task saturation or overloading situation is achieved, minor or/and major errors will likely happen. As simple as procedural mistakes, tunelization, task prioritization, missed ATC communication, misinterpreted information, loss of judgment, escalating anxiety, to sometimes, a complete shut down of the brain (brain freeze), all of which will impact your performance and competences and ultimately your flight safety.

However, there are tools (such as CHECKL!ST), techniques and competences, which pilots are trained for, to assist and avoid overloading and tasks saturation situations.

  • TRAINING/EXPERIENCE: Part of our training throughout our aviation career and pilot experiences are adequate Flight preparations/Briefings, Procedures/Flows, Checklists reading, proper use of the automation, cockpit scanning.

  • COMPETENCES: Ability to multitask, task prioritization, crosscheck, stay current/updated, fatigue management, time on task

  • TIPS: Anticipate and stay ahead of the aircraft. Use all resources available at hand; always have a back up plan; learn to recognize tasks saturation situations; don’t let your confidence exceed your abilities, know your limits, and act rather than react.

  • EQUIPMENT/TOOLS: Cockpit organization (charts, pens, iPad, etc), level of automation of your aircraft, updated documentation (charts, checklists, manuals), Flight Apps to facilitate (such as CHECKL!ST or Navigation App),

Ultimately, workload management is a critical and core element of safety in aviation. Anything that may help in reducing human errors and minimizing risk is recommended. With all the features of CHECKL!ST, we can help you reduce and manage your overall workload. We can help you multi task effectively, provide instant information, make cockpit organization smoother but also get you out of a critical and overloaded situation.

Too many tasks to accomplish and not enough time to find the adequate checklists? Interlinks are included, which will direct you instantly to your Emergency/Abnormal checklist, saving precious time and easing your workload during a critical situation.

One of the most important skills to master, enabling you to manage your workload effectively, is multi tasking. In our next article, we will go through the iPad Splitview feature with CHECKL!ST and demonstrate how this feature impacts multitasking efficiency.

Blue skies and safer flights with CHECKL!ST.

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