Core EBT Skills: Pilot Workload Management

Evidence-Based Training (EBT) is a new training paradigm which can lead to positive outcomes for Business Aviation operators. As part of his review of core EBT competencies, Mario Pierobon considers workload management.

Mario Pierobon  |  24th January 2024
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    Workload management is a core pilot skill


    The tragic crash of a Boeing 757 in December 1995, killing all but four of the 163 people on board as the jet collided with high terrain during on approach to Alfonso Bonila Aragon International Airport, Columbia, offers an important opportunity to reflect on the importance of pilot workload management as a core pilot behavioral competency.

    The weather conditions on the night of the crash rendered relatively clear skies, light surface winds, and no moon. The jet was equipped with glass cockpit technology including screens displaying flight path and navigation information, engine information, and a Flight Management System (FMS).

    A Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) was also installed and was functioning normally at the time of the accident, according to a report available on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website.

    According to Idowu et al. in a 2022 journal article, this accident confirmed that poor workload management within the cockpit could ultimately lead to a high workload situation, and eventually pave the way to a crash.

    This is due to the likelihood of improper coordination and planning, and a series of errors that could stem from increased mental workload, thereby preventing flight crews from adhering to safety-related functions to ensure the safety of flight.

    “In addition, an unexpected change of events could lead to ineffective workload management and eventually set the stage for an accident due to the probability of losing situational awareness”, Idowu et al affirm.

    “There is a direct relationship between workload management and situational awareness because factors inhibiting effective workload management often affect situational awareness. For example, as workload increases, situational awareness decreases. This is why pilots should ensure workload is effectively managed in flight operations.”

    Planning & Coordination are key to Workload Management

    Improper planning and coordination are acts that could make flight crews susceptible to a series of errors leading to ineffective workload management and, eventually, loss of situational awareness, according to Idowu et al.

    “This is because ineffective workload management takes away attention from pertinent functions in flight, such as radio communication,” they reason. 

    “When flight crews become distracted with other flight-related functions and are unable to pay attention to radio communication, assumptions may set in, making flight crews act contrary to air traffic control instructions, thereby losing situational awareness.”

    Ultimately, a professional cockpit environment must be supported by effective workload management. ICAO Doc 9995 (Manual of Evidence-Based Training) defines this competency as managing available resources efficiently to prioritize and perform tasks in a timely manner under all circumstances.

    In brief, workload management has the following behavioral indicators. It...

    • Maintains self-control in all situations;
    • Plans, prioritizes and schedules tasks effectively;
    • Manages time efficiently when carrying out tasks;
    • Offers and accepts assistance, delegating when necessary;
    • Asks for help early;
    • Reviews, monitors, and cross-checks actions conscientiously;
    • Verifies that tasks are completed to the expected outcome; and
    • Manages and recovers from interruptions, distractions, variations and failures effectively.

    Pilot Workload Management Best Practices

    FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 120-35D deals with Line-Oriented Flight Training (LOFT), a useful training method which gives flight crew members the opportunity to practice line operations (e.g., manoeuvres, operating skills, systems operations, and the operator’s procedures) with a full flight crew in a realistic environment.

    Flight crew members can learn to handle a variety of real-time scenarios that include routine, abnormal, and emergency situations, and can also learn and practice Crew Resource Management (CRM) by way of operator-developed behavioral markers that include workload management.

    Under LOFT, Line-Operational Simulations (LOS) are conducted as training or evaluation sessions in a simulated “line environment” setting. Instruction and training is based on learning objectives, behavioral observation, and assessment of performance progress and instructor or check pilot/examiner debriefing or critique (feedback).

    Because the focus of LOS is on the integration of CRM skills into the technical skills normally assessed in flight training, the LOS debriefing session will concentrate on this area.

    Key items for discussion include workload management, crew coordination, crew communications, and technical proficiency. The discussion should include the crew’s use of air traffic control and company communications; manuals, charts, and software; the use of other crewmembers; and the use of autopilot, autothrottle, and other potential workload-reducing devices.

    It is the facilitator’s responsibility to ensure that these items are fully explored during the debriefing sessions, according to AC 120-35D.

    In essence, workload management is time management. Crewmembers can create time to reduce task saturation by slowing down (for example, requesting vectors and holding – though fuel remaining must be considered during this process).

    A crewmember should not risk task saturation by attempting to multitask (for instance, flying the aircraft, responding to ATC, and accomplishing non-normal checklists).

    Workload management is a core competency that should be thoroughly considered, emphasized, and developed under a business aircraft operator’s EBT program.

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