Studying ways to make pilots more aware of insipient dangers while aloft is an evolving product of aviation research and education efforts. One particular subject that has arisen out of such efforts focuses on threat and error management (TEM). The idea behind it is this: threat recognition and implementation of error avoidance behaviour can better enhance pilot performance and ensure flight safety.
Threats are events that occur outside the influence of the pilot, but which require attention and management if safety margins are to be maintained. Threats increase the complexity of what you’re doing, and increase the possibilities of errors being committed. Observable threats can be known, (for example, forecast thunderstorms en route), or they can be unexpected, (for example, an engine failure on take-off).
Latent threats are systemic, organizational, or are imbedded as characteristics of pilots themselves. Typical latent threats may have to do with equipment designs, optical illusions, training philosophy and practices, organizational culture, and personality traits.
Errors are actions (or inactions) by pilots that lead to deviations from those which are intended. Types of errors may be flight handling errors (for example, an unintended stall), procedural errors, (for example, trying to perform checklist items from memory), and communications errors (for example, missing a radio call to ATC).
Pilots make mistakes. In fact, most aviation accidents can be traced back to pilot error. Error outcomes, however, don’t always have to be negative. If a pilot responds in a positive way, errors can be mitigated thereby increasing safety. Exacerbate the errors, however, and the probability of an accident occurring increases with the associated reduction in safety margins.
Well-executed TEM might involve, for instance, the recovery to safe flight from an unusual attitude, and the management of any additional piloting errors. Successful TEM results in outcomes that are desirable, ie. a flight that reaches a safe conclusion. Conversely, poor TEM might lead to the development of an undesired aircraft state, and a consequent error chain resulting from that state which ultimately leads to an accident. Good application of TEM training should provide pilots with the knowledge, procedures and skills to manage threats and errors, thus enabling good decision-making and safe performance of flight tasks.
Errors must be recognized and corrected before negative consequences happen. One means of improving TEM is by way of performing anticipatory training. In other words, if you train pilots to be proactive instead of reactive, then you’ll not only improve their ability to handle manoeuvres gone bad, you’ll also teach them to recognize hazardous states-of-affairs from which they can steer clear in the first place.
Awareness and anticipation are critical characteristics of an effective TEM system. Being “aware” means being perceptive to everything happening around you, maintaining spatial orientation, and having a firm grasp of your flight’s objectives. Anticipation means always being on the lookout for threats that may arise. Always expect the unexpected.
TEM aims to provide pilots with an understanding of how to assess the various risk levels of threats. It also provides pilots with strategies to deal with them, and reduce the possibility that human error may worsen a given situation.
For every flight, safeguards are available that can be used as barriers to latent problems that could occur while aloft. GPS, TCAS, Pilot Operating Handbooks, Standard Operating Procedures, Checklists, and ATC are all safeguards available within the aviators’ system of operation.
TEM should be central to every pilot’s way of thinking and behaving. Identify hazards, assess risks, contain threats, capture errors before they occur, and mitigate menacing end results. Practice TEM and you’ll bring about effective decision-making, and increase the likelihood of successful outcomes each time you take to the sky.