General aviation (GA) has been described as the incubator for almost all civil aviation operations, yet the GA safety record is consistently poor in comparison to airline operations. To identify the human factors associated with GA safety, eight distinct predictive factors, representing prospective memory, situation awareness (SA), and pilot age and expertise, were investigated for their relationship to critical incidents. Ninety-two licensed pilots flew patterns at two aerodromes in a high-fidelity Cessna 172 simulator. Greater likelihood of incurring a critical incident was associated with lower prospective memory and lower SA. Pilots with lower levels of expertise and older age were also more likely to have experienced a critical incident. Our findings highlight multiple cognitive factors associated with critical incidents during GA flight. In particular, stakeholders in aviation safety should incorporate indices of prospective memory when developing and testing pilot competencies, as this variable showed the strongest link to critical incidents. Furthermore, prospective memory and SA mediated some of the effects of age and expertise on critical incidents, suggesting that strategies to enhance prospective memory and SA may attenuate the deleterious impact of older age and lower experience on GA safety.

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Safety Science
Visualization and Simulation Centre

Van Benthem, K. (Kathleen), & Herdman, C.M. (2020). The importance of domain-dependent cognitive factors in GA safety: Predicting critical incidents with prospective memory, situation awareness, and pilot attributes. Safety Science, 130. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2020.104892