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Competence as ‘Normal Work’

We start with normal operations, a template for which might be:

Operational Readiness (pre-flight)

Planning for the anticipated task

(Load, fuel, weather, minimum equipment list (MEL)/DDG) (quantities, requirements and implications)

Planning for probable contingencies

(Route, destination, MEL/DDG) (range of possible encounters and implications)

Trajectory Management (in-flight)

Goal definition

Goal state convergence

(Next Goal State, Current Status and Interventions required)

Synchronising activity

(Communication (intra-, inter-), coordination of effort, conflict resolution)

Current ‘most likely alternative course of action’

(Update ‘what-ifs’)

From this framework, we can derive a set of generic behaviours that revolve around routine planning, organising and validation. Planning involves both resourcing requirements for the expected task (planned fuel, payload, information relating to next goal state) but also anticipating change (weather) and preparedness for contingencies (implications of a deferred defect, possible en route events). Organising involves coordination with third parties (refuelling, loading, passenger boarding, maintenance, air traffic control (АТС)) and task allocation within the team. Validation is the process of establishing if goal constraints have been met. It involves processing third-party inputs (load sheets, weight and balance, flight plans, fuel receipts and АТС clearances), seeking information from aircraft systems and confirming agreement within the crew. Validation is similar to controlling in an active sense but also includes the passive checking and confirmation of current goal status.

Much of this activity flows from the application of fundamental skills, such as checking flight plans and load sheets, calculating the aircraft’s weight and balance, interpreting weather reports and relevant NOTAMs. The skills are the enactment of knowledge gained through training and they facilitate the functioning of the system by supporting decision-making on the part of the crew. Communication has not been addressed specifically in this discussion and its ambiguous role has been already noted. I argued in Chapter 8 that communication is the driving force of the system. Although a clear relationship between underpinning knowledge and performance can easily be established in some areas, it is not clear if the same relationship exists for decision-making and communication. For example, what underpinning knowledge about decision-making supports better decision-making? Given that competencies are simply constructs, the final structure we arrive at is simply one that should be useful in some way. The structure should clarify the requirement for training inputs as well as inform decisions about assessment although, as we will see in the next chapter, only a subset of competence is probably amenable to direct measurement through observation. At this stage, given that this chapter looks at training, it is probably more beneficial to have a broader, rather than a narrower, focus. Therefore, I suggest that the fundamental competencies that support normal operations are:

  • • Planning
  • • Organising
  • • Validating
  • • Deciding
  • • Communicating

Competence as Management of Anomalies – Performance in Transitional States

The next space we need to explore is that part of the system envelope where the operation has departed from what I have called normal. This could be a procedure or a manoeuvre not often rehearsed, a system malfunction that is not an emergency or an unexpected change to the flight plan. These are infrequent routines that still rely on standard operating procedures (SOPs), in the main. Because these are infrequent actions, they are less automatic in their execution, which means they are more susceptible to interruptions and distractions. They need more attentional control, thus resulting in higher mental workload and there is lower remaining mental capacity for coping with any additional events. Many of the examples examined in the previous chapters fall into this category.

Kluge (2014) identifies a number of SOP-driven action sequences we must manage when dealing with anomalies. They comprise: fixed (must do), contingent (depends), parallel (do at the same time) or free (can do whenever) sequences. Control of these action sequences make demands upon the cognitive capacity of the operator and, interestingly, also map onto Hockey’s tripartite structure of things we must do, things we should do and things we want to do, discussed in Chapter 4. The implication being that psychological fatigue will impinge upon anomaly management.

Kluge’s work was mainly based on an analysis of complex technical systems such as power plants. She offers the following generic task analysis of the skills needed to manage anomalies:

Cope with higher mental workload

Clarify the current status of a situation before the control actions are taken Interpret warning and indicators correctly based on systems knowledge, integrate separate indications and account for all data Select an action based on how the system is controlled, select correct SOP or checklist

Plan and prepare the control activity (SOP, procedure, intervention)

Monitor the system behaviour so that processes remain safe and within predefined limits based on systems knowledge Describe the event at a higher level based on process and safety Develop cause and effect relationships, estimate the state of ‘hidden’ variables Execute actions based on operators mental model Check whether the system reacts in the intended direction Make sense of unexpected phenomena occurring as the task progresses

When dealing w'ith contingencies, it appears that four clusters of behaviours are significant:

Coping wfith increased cognitive demand Discrepancy clarification

(Causal analysis (w'hy is this happening?), options available (what can we do?), actions required (how do we do it?))

Implications of change

(Revised risk profile (new' risks?), operational constraints (new limitations on what we can do), changes to capability (remaining functionality)) Referencing observed behaviours to expectations

A characteristic of performance in this domain is the need for crew to be able to function under greater cognitive load, partly resulting from elevated stress, w'hich suggests that training should support the development of coping capacity, and I w'ill return to this later. A consistent theme in previous chapters has been the fact that the system margin is a zone where discrepant signals are present. Furthermore, buffering reflects the system’s capacity to cope with alternative modes of action. By default, this rather assumes that we are capable of estimating an intervention’s probability of success - its efficacy - in the margins remaining. Kluge’s analysis supports this view. In terms of a competence model, the behaviours described here suggest that we might consider ‘analysis’ as a candidate. The other behaviours seem to be elaborations of the competencies associated with normal operations.

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