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A Longitudinal Study of Automation Skill Acquisition in the Airbus A320 Aircraft

Through a research agreement with American Airlines my colleagues and I performed a partial replication of Earl Wiener’s seminal 1989 “attitudes toward automation” study.  

This study demonstrated that attitudes toward automation are quite stable across the pilot community, stable through time, and are only slightly influenced by the amount of hands-on experience a pilot has with automated systems.  Pilot attitudes toward automation appear to be more closely tied to a network of pilot beliefs than to specific experiences with automated systems.  Interviews with the pilots learning to fly the A320 permitted us to identify the principal elements of this network of beliefs.  This led us to propose that researchers should be rethinking pilot attitudes toward automation

Early on in our work with A320 pilots we encountered a tension between the official company policy on autothrottle use and the pilots’ understandings of flight safety.  Putting together the pieces of this puzzle shows why sometimes pilots do not follow procedures

This study also included quantitative measures of similarity judgments among the names of vertical navigation modes (B757-767).  This part of the study demonstrated three different conceptual sub-populations in the fleet.  Some pilots conceive of vertical modes in terms of their functional features (pitch-to-speed vs pitch-to-path, e.g.), while others find operational context more salient (modes to use in descent and approach vs those used in climb). 

Technical Report:

Edwin Hutchins, Barbara Holder, and Michael Hayward, “Pilot Attitudes toward Automation.”  Project report to NASA.