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Researchers investigate human factors challenges with complex flight deck automation systems


The Ohio State University Department of Integrated Systems Engineering (ISE) is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to support the evaluation of complex flight deck automation systems and integration of the latest human factors research to ensure compliance with relevant regulations.

The project will look at mitigating the safety issues associated with flight crews’ reliance on automation in large commercial airplanes.

Martijn IJstma
Martijn IJstma

ISE Assistant Professor Martijn IJtsma, Assistant Professor Shawn Pruchnicki, Faculty Emeritus David Woods and graduate student Renske Nijveldt are working on the yearlong project to help the FAA review existing research on reliance on complex automation and the associated design characteristics of flight deck automation, IJtsma says.

“Flight deck systems are becoming increasingly complex,” he says, “and it is more and more challenging to understand and sufficiently mitigate safety risks associated with flight crews’ reliance on these systems.”

Ohio State’s role will be to develop materials that the FAA can use to evaluate design characteristics of automation and compliance with the relevant regulations. 

IJtsma says that one example is mode confusion, in which automation changes its behavior based upon logical states. “Mode transitions can occur automatically and if the automation does not sufficiently communicate a mode change to the pilots, it can lead to coordination breakdowns between the automation and the flight crew.”

He says ISE’s Cognitive Systems Engineering Laboratory “has a very long history in research on human-automation interaction challenges,” adding that Co-PI Woods has “spent over 40 years of his career investigating these issues.” Furthermore, Co-PI Pruchnicki has experience with aviation safety and is a pilot himself, bringing first-hand experience to the research team.

Profile photo of Shawn Pruchnicki
Shawn Pruchnicki

Pruchnicki commented on the impact the research could eventually have for Ohio State aviation students. “This work will affect the design of the next generation of airliners that our students will be flying as they continue their careers,” he said.

The project is supported through a grant award to the FAA Center of Excellence for Technical Training and Human Performance. This is a “consortium of leading aviation research institutions dedicated to helping the FAA revolutionize technical training practices and take human performance to new heights,” according to the center’s website ( 

by Nancy Richison, freelance writer, with contributions from Holly Henley, communications specialist

Category: Research