In the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA), Human Factors is defined as a
"multidisciplinary effort to generate and
compile information about human
capabilities and limitations and apply
that information to equipment, systems,
facilities, procedures, jobs,
environments, training, staffing, and
personnel management for safe,
comfortable, and effective human
performance" (FAA Order 9550.8A).
FAA human factors researchers seek to
understand the physical, behavioral,
cognitive, and social characteristics of aviation professionals—such as pilots, air traffic controllers,
technical operations specialists, and aircraft maintenance technicians—and the systems that they use.
FAA human factors engineers and practitioners apply human factors knowledge to improve safety,
efficiency, performance, and reliability of the National Airspace System (NAS) through a focus on human
performance of air traffic control and technical operations personnel as impacted by new and modified
systems, procedures, and training. FAA human factors specialists working in the Office of Aviation
Safety (AVS) apply human factors knowledge to develop regulatory material for aircraft certification and
operational approvals for advanced flight deck technologies, procedures, and training, monitor
compliance with regulations, and address continued operational safety.
The overall goal of human factors in the FAA is to support the attainment of high levels of humansystem
performance across all aviation domains. Within AVS, the focus of human factors efforts is on
ensuring minimum acceptable performance levels are met whereas the Air Traffic Organization (ATO)
and the Office of NextGen (ANG) focus on maximizing human-system performance. This requires an
integrated “system of systems” approach that considers the complex interactions among people,
technology, procedures, and organizations rather than just a “system by system” approach. This
integrated approach requires advocacy, education, and collaboration among human factors
organizations within the FAA and close coordination with industry, academic, and international partners.
Important subgoals of FAA human factors efforts include:
To maintain, and when possible improve, aviation safety by reducing the impact of human
error. Human error has been identified as a factor in two-thirds to three-fourths of recent
aviation accidents and incidents, including several recent high-profile cases. FAA human factors
personnel seek to understand the many potential contributors to human error, such as
inadequate training and procedures, conflicting roles and responsibilities, badly designed equipment, poor communication, fatigue, distraction, and organizational factors. FAA human
factors personnel provide data to support the development of or updates to FAA regulations,
procedures, training, and equipment to reduce the frequency and severity of human errors and
to recommend mitigations and best practices that reduce error consequences. This activity is
supported by conducting incident and accident investigations and analyzing event data to
understand and further mitigate human factors issues.
To increase the efficiency and performance of the NAS by improving the quality of operational
decisions and facilitating operational actions. FAA human factors personnel seek to
understand how human operators make decisions (e.g., What information does a Technical
Operations Specialist need when diagnosing a problem?), what factors affect decision-making
(e.g., Has the pilot received sufficient training to respond to this situation?), and how decisions
are implemented through actions (e.g., How long does it take a controller to enter a new route
into the automation system?). This knowledge is applied to the development and evaluation of
procedures, tools, standards, policies, and organizations. Identifying these factors can help
prevent systems from presenting conflicting or confusing information, can help operators
manage their workload across multiple tasks and maintain their situational awareness, and can
improve acceptance and trust in the system.
To facilitate proposed changes to the NAS to address operational needs. FAA human factors
personnel conduct field studies, surveys, and high-fidelity simulations. They review the content
of voluntary safety reports to understand the goals, tasks, and behaviors that present the most
significant human performance challenges to pilots, controllers, and maintenance technicians.
Within Air Traffic Control (ATC), this knowledge is used to inform user-centered requirements
for equipment upgrades, revisions to procedures, and changes to training programs. This
includes ensuring that new capabilities are useful, effective, and provide measurable benefits by
setting systematically derived, science-based, human-performance targets that can be
measured and tracked by programs to ensure that they are achieved.
To increase the utilization of new capabilities. NextGen capabilities, such as new decision support
tools, can achieve projected benefits only when the human operators choose to use the
new capabilities and use them effectively. FAA human factors personnel seek to understand the
factors that affect the utilization and reliance on automation, such as trust, definitions of roles
and responsibilities, job demands, organizational structures, and the timing of implementation
and training. Factors affecting this goal include issues of over-reliance on technology, skill
degradation, resilience, and failure recovery.
To reduce programmatic risks. Over the last 20 years, several major FAA system acquisition
programs have experienced significant cost and schedule impacts because human factors were
not adequately considered in the acquisition and development process. A program that does
not conduct human factors integration activities, that poorly times the implementation of
changes, or that trains personnel only on individual systems rather than on integrated overall
services, is running significant risks that may not become apparent until the new system or tool
installed and used in the operation. FAA human factors personnel seek to maximize humansystem
performance by applying recommended practices throughout the acquisition lifecycle to mitigate
such risks to the system development process throughout the acquisition lifecycle.
Personnel and Resources
FAA human factors personnel currently reside in several organizations, including the Office of Aviation
Safety (AVS), the Air Traffic Organization (ATO), and the Office of NextGen (ANG). These organizations
maintain sponsorship, collaboration, and oversight relationships depending on requirements, resources,
and expertise needed to complete projects and activities. There is no single line of reporting for FAA
human factors personnel and each organization pursues human factors goals and agendas to support
the needs of the specific lines of business. Activities such as the ANG Human Factors Coordinating
Committee and AVS Human Factors Coordination Team provide opportunities for FAA human factors
personnel, contractors, and outside organizations to share information.
Significant FAA assets include world-class human factors laboratories and simulation capabilities at the
William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, NJ and the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI)
in Oklahoma City, OK. FAA human factors personnel collaborate with national and international
organizations, such as the Department of Transportation John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems
Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the MITRE Corporation, EuroControl,
the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), as
well as numerous universities and industrial partners. FAA human factors projects are funded primarily
through several RE&D budget lines, with additional funding from specific F&E and Ops programs.
Customers and Sponsors
The primary users of FAA human factors products are other organizations within AVS, ATO, and ANG
that are responsible for developing systems, implementing training programs, developing certification
and operational approval guidance, and writing regulations. US and international segments of the
aviation industry also capitalize on FAA R&D products to ensure safety, efficiency, and compliance. FAA
human factors program activities are sponsored by elements of the AVS, ATO, and ANG organizations
with distinct focus areas:
AVS is responsible for the certification, production approval, and continued airworthiness of
aircraft. AVS is also responsible for the certification of pilots, mechanics, and personnel in
safety-related positions. AVS conducts safety data analysis and event investigation. AVS
develops and applies policies, regulations, and guidelines. Current AVS-oriented human factors
efforts support all AVA activities and include policy for pilot training, avionics systems, ADS-B
applications in the flight deck, electronic flight bags, Data Communications, flight crew fatigue,
and voluntary safety reporting.
ATO is responsible for the entire ATC operation, including staffing, personnel recruitment (in
collaboration with AHR), selection, training, system development and implementation, and
operational service delivery. The main focus areas of current ATO human factors efforts are
training, safety, system design, and developing standards.
ANG develops concepts to meet the future needs of the ATO and AVS. Current ANG human
factors efforts focus on human performance risks, training implications, and maintenance issues,
including issues resulting from NextGen technology enhancements and ensuring human factors
is incorporated into system development activities as a matter of process.
FAA human factors Personnel also work closely with the labor unions representing the affected user
communities (e.g., NATCA, PASS, ALPA, IAM&AW), and with industry organizations representing other
stakeholders (e.g., AOPA).