IFATCA Vision Document – Update Human Factors

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IFATCA Vision Document – Update Human Factors

42ND ANNUAL CONFERENCE, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 17-21 March 2003

WP No. 165

IFATCA Vision Document – Update Human Factors


Human Factors issues have become a primary consideration in air traffic control today. In 1998, the Executive Board requested a review of the IFATCA Vision Document, to determine if there was a necessity to amend its content to more accurately reflect the increasing influence of Human Factors in ATS systems.

In October 2001, The Executive Board decided the IFATCA Vision Document required a review to include the importance of Human Factors, and its relationship to Technical and Professional issues in ATC today.


It is an appropriate time for IFATCA to include the importance of Human Factors, and its relationship to Technical and Professional issues in ATC today, in the IFATCA Vision Document.

A reprint of the Vision Document is not justifiable. Additional pages could be included as an insert to update the document. In addition, the IFATCA Web Site could supply updated information in the Vision Document.

At Conference in Cancun, Standing Committee Four was tasked with producing a Human Factors update for the Vision Document, and the web site.


Human Factors issues in ATS are developing at a rapid pace, to the extent that they are inextricably linked to most Technical and Professional issues.

There is a need to include the importance of Human Factors issues in the IFATCA Vision Document, and on the IFATCA website.


The conclusions of the Standing Committees on this agenda item be placed in the Vision Document as a supplement to the existing text (insert) and on the IFATCA web page, to reflect the important relationship Human Factors issues has with today’s Air Traffic Management Systems.

Any incorrect or out-of-date information discovered in the Vision Document should be corrected.

This Working Paper be accepted as Information Material.

Attachment: IFATCA “Vision Document” Insert

Human Factors :

The subject of Human Factors in the Air Traffic Management (ATM) world has become one of the most important issues in air traffic control today. Historically, Human Factors belonged to the scientific world where research focused on areas such as task analysis, selection methods and job description(s). Today, its importance encompasses all aspects of aviation. The aviation system has changed a great deal over time, especially with regard to automation, but controllers are still functioning in the same role(s) as always. Although Human Factors in Air Traffic Control is not a novel item, the ICAO Flight Safety and Human Factors Programme has given a new impetus to the work in this area during the last decade. One of the more significant results is that elements of Human Factors in Air Traffic Control have migrated from the academic world to the operational domain. This results in a new appreciation for the importance of HF issues by Air Traffic Services providers.

The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations has placed the application of Human Factors knowledge high on its list of priorities. Our goal is not simply to maintain a safe system, but improve aviation safety through education. We believe that any understanding of Human Factors issues that is limited solely to individual operators in a complex system such as aviation, whether they be controller, pilot or other vital component, is undesirable. Air traffic controllers need to be familiar with the logic behind the Human-Machine interface (HMI). It is paramount that all operators share the same basic understanding of how a system, or system component, is designed, and to have “knowledge of human performance and limitations”.

IFATCA acknowledges that so-called error-free systems could conceivably be designed by automating as many human tasks as possible. We think however, this in itself will not eliminate errors, but merely change the place where errors can occur. Subsequently, it has the potential to increase the magnitude of human error.

Human Factors issues are involved in almost all accidents and incidents. “Human error” is not the end of the investigation process but rather its starting-point. Human error takes shape within the workplace and is a consequence rather than a cause. Errors require explanations, but only by understanding the context(s) that provoke error(s) can we hope to limit recurrences. We must begin at the design stage, and shift our focus from eliminating error to preventing and managing error.

The assurance of Safety in Air Traffic Services will govern the industry’s direction. Each component of the aviation industry must demonstrate an ability to meet, and exceed required levels of safety. To accomplish this, we must become more pro-active in our approach to Safety Management in ATS.

It is the Federation’s view that the human is the central element in our aviation system(s). As such, he/she is entitled to all available resources, that will promote and facilitate functioning at optimum levels, including education and training in Human Factors.

It is IFATCA’s wish that Service Providers will take positive steps to provide training programs for ATC staff, in the area of Human Factors. It is IFATCA’s view that Recurrent Training programs featuring gradual and systematic introduction of Human Factors knowledge to ab-initio, and already-qualified Air Traffic Controllers, are a necessity. Such program(s) should include Human Factors Specialists and operational training specialists. The ICAO document Human Factors Guidelines for ATM Systems is very specific in this regard. As we increase our reliance on technological tools, they are the most appropriate source for information on user preferences, knowledge of issues, procedures, and practices.

The development of a formal “education plan” for controllers will ensure Human Factors considerations are fully incorporated into system design. The plan could be a living document; tailored to specific requirements, strategies, and other program considerations.

A priority for these and other training programs, must be to concentrate on Human-Machine-Interface features of new equipment, and application(s) of the new procedures. Equally important, is understanding philosophies in system design, and grasping concepts such as Situational Awareness and Error Management.

Integrating Human Factors awareness from the earliest stages will pay dividends. The resulting bonus will be a system that supports the users, removes non-essential tasks, reduces workload, improves performance and increases efficiency.

Many challenges remain in the field of Human Factors knowledge and skills. IFATCA is committed to an evolutionary improvement process that builds on the strengths of our existing, and proven aviation-system.

IFATCA’s proposed solutions for ATC Human Factors issues center on efforts to convert practical expertise into written procedures, rules and regulations. The Federation believes this is the way to the future and the key to longevity. The main ingredient is a culture that focuses on the human, and Human Factors. Each and every ATS system’s most valuable resource is its staff. We urge all ATS-providers to invest in their human resources. A motivated and dedicated workforce will thrive well into the future.


Human Factors in Air Traffic Control. V. David Hopkin (1995). Taylor & Francis, London, UK. ISBN 0 7484 0357 4.

Air Traffic Control: Human Performance Factors. Anne Isaac, Bert Ruitenberg (1999). Ashgate, Aldershot, Hampshire, UK. ISBN 0 291 39854 5.

ICAO Annex 1, Personnel Licensing. Eight Edition (1988). ICAO, Montreal, Canada.

ICAO Human Factors Training Manual. Doc 9683-AN/950. First Edition (1998). ICAO, Montreal, Canada.

ICAO Human Factors Guidelines for Air Traffic Management Systems. Doc 9758 – AN/966. First Edition (2000). ICAO, Montreal, Canada.

The Human Factors Factor – Doug Churchill, IFATCA Circular, June 2001.

Ten Years of Human Factors in Air Traffic Control – Bert Ruitenberg- The Controller, March 1999 Human Error in Air Traffic Management- Bert Ruitenberg- Paper presented at the 5th Eurocontrol Human Factors workshop, Prague, Czech Republic, 7-9 May 2001.

Accepting Human Error as a Normal Component in Behaviour- Bert Ruitenberg, Paper presented at IBC 2nd Annual Conference on Human Error, London, UK, 20 March 2002.

Last Update: September 29, 2020  

March 21, 2020   407   Jean-Francois Lepage    2003    

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