SHELL model of human factors


The SHELL Model is defined as “the relationship of human factors and the aviation environment” (Reinhart, 1996, p. 6 10).

This concept has originated from the ‘SHEL Model’ by Edwards in 1972, which the name was derived from the initials of its components (Software, Hardware, Environment, and Liveware). In 1975, Hawkins developed the concept into the ‘SHELL Model’ with an introduction of another Liveware into the original concept, ‘SHEL Model’ (Hawkins, 1987 3).

The most different point between Edwards’s SHEL Model (1972) and Hawkins’s SHELL Model (1975) is that Hawkins urged for the necessity of another ‘Liveware’ (the person) and diagrammed to illustrate the interactions between the central Liveware and each of other four systems (Hawkins, 1987 3).

Theoretical frame

It is generally known that most of the air accidents are related to human errors, while the mechanical failures in aircraft maintenance today has enormously been on the decrease with a number of new high technological equipments inventions (Hawkins, 1987 3).

Furthermore, in the perception of human factors, every individual, either who takes part in the operation or the supporting part of aviation, has individual capabilities and limitations. Thus, many countries in the world strive to secure the safety by training based on the interactions of each of SHELL components (Hawkins, 1987 3).

Most importantly, the SHELL model more emphasizes on the interfaces between a person (centre Liveware) and the other four components rather than its components themselves. On the other side, it is inapplicable in this model to cover the interfaces which are outside human factors such as Hardware-Hardware, Environment-Software (Reinhart, 1996 10).

From this SHELL model, each person (Centre Liveware) is applied to and interacted with the other four components and the different interactions between the person and each of other components considered as the human possibility, while it is believed from this theory that a mismatch between the centre Liveware and any other four components always leads to a source of human error (“Marine”, 2000 8).


The main elements in the model can be listed as follows:


Various equipments, tools, aircraft, workspace, buildings and other physical resources without human elements in aviation constitute the Hardware.


the Software comprehends all non-physical resources, which are for organically operation, like organizational policies/rules, procedures, manuals and placards.


The Environment includes not only the factors which influence where people are working such as climate, temperature, vibration and noise, but also socio-political and economic factors.


The Liveware includes factors like teamwork, communication, leadership and norms.

Central Liveware

The Liveware, which is in the centre of the SHELL Model, can be defined as human elements such as knowledge, attitudes, cultures and stress. This Liveware is regarded as the core of the SHELL Model and other components match with the Liveware as the central figure (Hawkins, 1987 3).

SHELL interfaces

L-H System

Firstly, the interaction between the Liveware and the Hardware (L-H system) is usually named man-machine system. This system can be easily explained by an example which aircrafts should provide a great value of services as much as they can, such as fitting seat in aircraft, for the passenger’s comfortable flight.

Hawkins (1987 3) argued that the design of controls and displays, which is subject to the L-H interaction, should be matched with human characteristics and conveniences in order to minimize the possibility of L-H error occurrences. In addition, the errors originated from the deficiency of this L-H interaction are commonly seen when human factor specialists only consider the design on the in-flight control and display leading to the common errors (Hawkins, 1987 3).

Some research in 1940s showed an instance of the common error of L-H interface that the old three-pointer altimeter had caused common errors in aviation field. Therefore, displays should indicate information that people can process their tasks in order to successfully minimize the occurrence of the error, such as knowledge of human behaviour and the way that people can process information, make decisions and act on them.

Supporting Evidence

There was a fatal air accident in February 6, 1996 that a Boeing B-757-225 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. This accident can be an appropriate instance that shows how the L-H error caused the air accidents. In this case, the aircraft had a problem of incorrect airspeed indication and it, eventually, led to fatal disaster that every 189 passengers in the aircraft were killed (Kebabjian, 2005 7).

L-S System

The second interface, in the SHELL Model, is represented as the interaction between the Liveware and Software. As the Software indicates intangible objects than those of the Hardware, it is clear that the error of L-S interaction is more difficult to solve than the error of L-H interaction.

The deficiencies conceptual aspects of warning system can be applied to the L-S interface and it can lead to an irrational indexing system in the manual operations to the delaying or errors when people seek vital information.

For example, in the past, some early checklists did not have any written responses for the specific situation change on the lists and the pilots at the time did not check the checklists properly. To reduce the error of L-S interaction, Hawkins (1987 3) found a solution, which is called SOPs. However, he commented on this solution that SOPs is not for every possible condition, but for some flexibility.

Supporting Evidence

It is not too much to say that the air accident of Korean Airlines, August 6, 1997, was the one of the worst air disasters up to recently that drew 229 people, who consisted of 215 passengers and 14 crew members, into the demises. This disaster caused by the defect of the software problem resulting in the impediment of the MSAW (Minimum Safe Altitude Warning System) (Kebabjian, 2005 7).

L-E System

The efforts toward the error of this L-E interaction is well shown from flight instruments, which help overcome obstacles of flight, like helmet against the noise, flying suit against the cold, goggles against the effects of altitude.

Additionally, this L-E interface is concerned on the organisational, regulatory and socio-aspects of environment like the morale of employees and the health of organization in the aviation field. Hawkins (1987 3) especially emphasized on the three environmental factors: noise, heat and vibration, which can result in the error of L-E interaction. He also provided that these errors can be minimised through optimising control of those three factors as many successful research have been shown.

Supporting Evidence

In the recent, February 3, 2005, there was an air accident related to the L-E interface. The Boeing B-737-200 was unable to land at Kabul, which was the destination of the flight, by for the reason of a blizzard. Although the aircraft, then, tried to land at another safe place, it finally exploded with the crash into the mountain and made 104 causalities (Kebabjian, 2005 7).

L-L System

Finally, there is the last interface in the SHELL Model, which is the interaction between the Liveware and Liveware. This L-L interface is also related to leadership, crew cooperation and personality interaction and human factors experts have ascertained that, the problems of L-L interaction, such as errors within team-work, had caused a great deal of accidents.

Hawkins (1987 3) also suggested a possible solution in terms of L-L interaction, which are CRM (Cockpit/crew Resource Management), TRM (Team Resource Management), and LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training). He also determined that these effective training programmes on crew members towards better cooperation and communication would build considerable reductions in the occurrences of L-L error.

Supporting Evidence

In July 31, 1992, the Airbus A310-304 which was going to Kathmandu burst into flames. This was assumed the accident regarded as an error of L-L error. The origin of this accident reported that there had been some confusing communications between the flight control tower and the crew members in the aircraft and those miscommunications, finally, led to the fatal accident (Kebabjian, 2005 7)

Supplimentary theory

SCHELL interfaces

With the enhancement of the culture context being studied by professor Hofstede in 1983 [5], a further modification to the SHELL model has been made to include Cultural Context in which all human-non-human systems interact. With the Culture included in the dimensions, studies of Crew Resource Managment by Author Hackman [(1990 2)] and Author Johnston [6], they have both emphasied the improtance of explicitly recognising this dimension. Thus the SHELL model can be further denoted as SCHELL.

Cultural Dimension (SCHELL Model)

Cultural charateristics is the add-on element for the SCHELL model. It provides an interactive effect of three variables. Firstly, it allows personality and group charateristics such as national culture or ethic group culture into consideration. Secondly, the difference in communication process, thirdly, perception of teamwork and multi-cultural group performance.

The four dimensions of culture (Power Distance, Uncertainty Aviodance, Individualism and Masculinity) must be considered while application of the SHELL model in order to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness.

L-C System

In addtion to the evolution from SHELL to SCHELL, the interaction between Live-ware and culture refers to the organisational and cultural shell that provides interpretative differences for the way individuals behave, the values and expectations they belief for the H-S systems [Earl (2006 1)].

Author Helmreich, (1991) have stated that there are greather variability found among flight crews operating the same type of aircraft worldwide. There are even a larger variability found between different airlines and countries. The interpretation of pilots and managment personnel on policies and practices on aviation related authorities such as ICAO, IATA, is wide and varied. Therefore, procedures, training might not be effective and efficent due to not aligning the policies and procedures with culture of organisation where work is done [Earl (2006 1)].

Refuting evidence

Way forward (to do list)

1. EARL, L. (2006).190.216 Aviation Human Factors Study Guide NZ: Massey University
2. HACKMAN, J. R. (1990). New Directions in Crew-Oriented Flight Training, In ICAO Cicurlar 229-AN/137. Human Factors Digest No: 4. Proceeding of the ICAO Human Factors Seminar, Lenningrad, April 1990.
3. HAWKINS F.H. (1987). Human factors in flight (2nd Ed.). Ashgate (Aldershot, UK), 1987.
4. HELMREICH, R. L. (1991). Strategies of Study of Flight Crew Behaviour. In International Civil Aviation Organisation, Report of the Flight Safety and Human Factors Regional Seminar. Bangkok, Thailand. November 1991.
5. HOFSTEDE, G. (1983). Culture and Management Development. Geneva International Labour Office.
6. JOHNSTON, N. (in-press). CRM-Cross Culture Perspective. In Weiner, E. Kanki, B. & Helmreich, R. (Eds). Cockpit Resource Management. San Diego: Academic Press.
7. KEBABJIAN R. (2005). The information was retrieved from on 19 September, 2008.
8. Marine Accident Investigator's International Forum, (2000). Retrieved from on 17 September, 2008.
9. NAGEL D.C. (1988). Human error in aviation operations. In E.L. WIENER & D.C. NAGEL (ed.). Human Factors in Aviation. Academic Press (San Diego, USA), 1988.
10. REINHART R.O. (1996). Basic flight physiology (2nd Ed.). McGraw-Hill (New York, USA), 1996.

Knowledge Management Space


Wiki of Science Team (contributors to this page)

Authors / Editors

David Woo Sung LeeDavid Woo Sung Lee
ZiZhanG NGZiZhanG NG

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