Pilots are humans at the end of the day and humans mind tend to wander no matter how focused we are. Based on a NASA initiated study, humans are poor at monitoring tasks. Hence we see a lot of air crashes which are quite frequent. Even with pilots flying state of art jets, we can read about a lot of plane crashes.
Co-researcher Jonathan Schooler from University Of California-Santa Barbara said, “Our study really does suggest that vigilance is a very difficult task for people.Extended uninterrupted monitoring can be draining. The antidote to that is interruptions that break up the monotony, but we also found that the interruptions themselves contributed to lapses.”
Pilots have to constantly monitor aircraft position, speed, altitude and an array of other automated functions as they appear on a computer screen during flight.
NASA pilot Steve Casner and Schooler came together to examine why monitoring failures happen even among experienced and highly trained airline pilots.
They asked 16 commercial jet pilots to monitor the progress of a simulated routine flight. The levels of which are high of cockpit automation handled the tasks of steering the airplane and navigation.
At the end of the study they found that the cockpit environment is occupied enough. The pilots were often sidetracked by other tasks. The researchers found that tasks such as talking to air traffic control or configuring the airplane’s systems, which reduced fatigue.
But they also discovered that these pop-up tasks could themselves cause pilots to miss important events during flight. Interestingly, Schooler and Casner said, this is what happened when the pilots weren’t interrupted. They created their own distractions. The researchers called it mind wandering.
The scary part, pilots missed 25 percent of all altitude crossings they were charged with monitoring. The study appeared in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.