Interruption or Distraction

Description

Pilots and ATCOs perform lengthy and complex procedures in the course of their duties. An interruption breaks the thread of these procedures and can have undesirable consequences. Distractions can make it difficult for the pilot or ATCO to concentrate on the task in hand.

Types of Interruption

Interruption on the flight deck may result from causes within the aircraft, e.g. the occupant(s) of (the) flight deck supernumary crew seat (s), the activation of an caution or warning, the activation of a cabin crew call alert, unexpected information from ATC or the operating Company.

Interruption may also occur in the control room, e.g due to a telephone call, a message from a colleague or detection of a potential airspace infringement or level bust.

Types of Distraction

Examples of circumstances where distraction may occur on the flight deck include non-relevant conversation, equipment malfunction and adverse weather.

For the ATCO, distraction may result from extraneous noise, e.g. loud conversation between colleagues, or from an uncomfortable or inconvenient position.

Effects

On the flight deck, the interruption of a procedure may result in missing a vital checklist action or failing to follow correctly a prescribed procedure.

In the control room, interruption may cause an ATCO to fail to take an intended action.

Distraction on the flight deck or in the control room may make it difficult for the pilot or ATCO to concentrate on his/her task, possibly resulting in error or omission.

Defences

Well designed and diligently applied Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should minimise the prevalence of, or significant effect from, interruptions and distractions. For example, the sterile flight deck procedure implemented by many airlines below FL100 reduces distractions and interruptions during a period which can be expected to result in relatively high-workload situations during most flights. However, these same arrangements are often not applied to critical elements of the pre flight process. As an example, departure performance calculations made by the crew prior to engine start are done at a time when the risk of interruption or distraction within, or external to, the crew is routinely high.

Typical Scenarios

  • A flight deck checklist is interrupted by an interphone call from the cabin crew; the checklist is subsequently resumed but an important action is omitted.
  • A discussion of non-relevant matters is carried out on the flight deck and none of the crew members present notice that they have entered an active runway without clearance.
  • Cross checking of take off performance calculations being made in the flight deck prior to engine start is interrupted by the arrival of the dispatcher.
  • An ATCO misses an important message due to a radio playing in the control room.

Contributory Factors

Solutions

  • Review and if necessary improveSOPs
  • Insist that SOPs are followed
  • Review and if necessary improve the design of the ATCO’s position
  • Review and if necessary improve CRM and TRM training provisions

Accidents & Incidents

Events on the SKYbrary Accident and Incident Database where the Official Investigation included reference to Distraction as an element in causation:

Related OGHFA Articles

Further Reading

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