A logical impression of the pilots’ situation awareness: studying relevant human factors tools

Significant human factors tools for a logical idea of pilots situation awareness

Van de Merwe, Van Dijk and Zon (20111) carried out a study to explore some significant human factors (HF) tools to measure situation awareness (SA) of pilots. Eye tracking was the one of the study focus whether it was a valuable HF tool to understand how SA was gained and maintained.
The result showed that the applied HF tools did simultaneously present a coherent idea of the pilots’ SA. Assuming that looking at a definite location means being attentive to that particular location, eye tracking was found to be an effective tool to measure the critical first step of SA.

Dwell times

Relationship between AoIs and period Significant
PFD, compared before and after Significant
ECAM, compared before and after Not Significant
Relationship between the discovery period and cross-checking time Significant (-)


Preperiod Significant
Postperiod More significant


Preperiod Significant
Postperiod Less significant

CARS ratings

Reference scenario Significant
IAS discrepancy scenario Less significant


Research approach

• This was an exploratory study.


12 airline pilots, competent to fly Airbus A320, paired up of a captain and a first officer as a crew from Italy, Spain and Netherlands.

Design and Materials

• True experimental design was used.
• Eye tracking and online and posttrial personal, self-report ratings were employed.
• The 5-point ISA rating was used for measuring the pilots’ general idea of the situation.
• The CARS questionnaire, an assessment method derived from three-level model of SA, was used to collect data from pilots.


• A flight simulator experiment in an Airbus A 320 cockpit setting was performed. The simulator trip was about 25 minutes from London Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam Schipol Airport.
• The above three tools were to observe the pilots’ behavior while trying to solve the air speed discrepancy. The results from the tools were expected to present a more coherent idea of the pilots’ SA than the each separate measure.
• The simple rating technique that measures mental workload of pilots was employed.
• Three levels of SA were compared by using CARs outcomes whereas ISA ratings measured the pilots’ general idea of the situation.


Independent variables:
• Pilot behavior - SA
Dependent variables
• Eye track measure
• A malfunction scenario
• Randomness of pilots’ scanning pattern
• The personal online self-report ratings
• The personal posttrial self-report ratings

Data analysis

• Repeated measures analysis and paired-samples t-test were performed.
• ANOVA was performed on the accuracy of collected data. The choice of significance level was measured by alpha 5%.
• A proper effect size for the comparison between two averages measured the effect size.

Generalization potential

• The results are generalizable to a larger population of active, professional pilots, particularly licensed to fly Airbus A320, because the tasks completed in a simulator matched normal operations.
• This research is also potentially generalizable to pilots when they have to deal with a malfunction in a simulator setting.

1. Koen VAN DE MERWE, VAN DIJK Henk & ZON Rolf (2011). A Coherent Impression of the Pilots' Situation Awareness: Studying Relevant Human Factors Tool. International Journal of Aviation Psychology. Oct-Dec2011, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p343-356. 14p. DOI: 10.1080/10508414.2011.606747.

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