How safe is it to fly whilst stressed?


Have you ever considered how stress levels can affect the safety of a flight? Well, not many pilots do. We often focus on things like bad weather and don’t look at our stress levels as being a factor.


A team of researchers from the university’s Applied Psychology and Human Factors (APHF) group, led by Dr Amy Irwin, set out to examine the risk perception of GA pilots and how this impacts decision-making concerning take-off, specifically in deciding whether it is safe to take-off or not.


The team took a sample of 101 pilots and asked them about 12 different take-off scenarios across 4 categories.

–         Compromised performance (pilot stressed, fatigued or ill)

–         Environmental hazards (thunderstorm, ice, wind)

–         Faulty equipment (power, noise, airspeed indicator)

–         Missing equipment (checklist, sunglasses, seatbelt)


In each scenario, pilots were asked if they would proceed with take-off and to explain their reasoning.


The team became aware that pilots in the ‘compromised performance’ category understood the risks, however, said that they considered flight to be a stress-relieving activity and were far less likely to cancel a flight due to levels of stress.


“This is despite guidance from aviation regulatory bodies such as the Federal Aviation Authority indicating that stress can potentially compromise flight performance.


“General Aviation pilots are generally safety conscious, but not all risks are considered equal, so it is important to highlight the potential impact of stress on flight safety going forward to encourage pilots to consider the risks of flying stressed.


“The more we know about how and why GA pilots make decisions and manage risk, the better able we will be to develop interventions and training solutions to improve safety.


“Based on our research it seems apparent that training on the impact of stress on cognition and performance would be useful, along with training in situation assessment and the validity of various risk mitigation strategies.”


Thank you for reading this article written by the content team at Pilot Garage 🙂


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