Abstract Title

Human Factors of Leadership: What the Tenerife Place Crash Taught the World About Cockpit Communication Dynamics

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Paper

Abstract

The 1977 Tenerife plane crash was not only the deadliest accident of its kind in the history of flight, but also a pivotal event in the study of human-machine interaction. The events that led up to this infamous disaster were a complex blend of human error, environmental pressures, and flawed cockpit leadership dynamics (Weick, 1990). Of all the factors at play, by far, the most heavily studied and debated are the decisions made by Captain Jacob Velhuyzen van Zanten to take off without clearance, as well as refuse input from fellow pilots and ignore the orders given by air traffic control operators. As a result, this tragedy has directly led to the implementation of massive changes in how cockpit communication is conducted around the world. In the case of large commercial planes, it is no longer the case that one individual is charged with making unquestioned decisions. Rather, there are practices in place which emphasize the importance of dynamic leadership and decision making across hierarchical levels (Costly, Johnson, & Lawson, 1989; Nevile, 2013; Stepniczka et al., 2015). Additionally, automation is also becoming increasingly important both in the air and on the ground (Naranji, Sarkani, & Mazzuchi, 2015). The Tenerife plane crash drew a great deal of attention to the importance of pilot leadership dynamics, and, though the current state of cockpit communication is not without flaws, the airline community has made steps in the right direction.

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Human Factors of Leadership: What the Tenerife Place Crash Taught the World About Cockpit Communication Dynamics

The 1977 Tenerife plane crash was not only the deadliest accident of its kind in the history of flight, but also a pivotal event in the study of human-machine interaction. The events that led up to this infamous disaster were a complex blend of human error, environmental pressures, and flawed cockpit leadership dynamics (Weick, 1990). Of all the factors at play, by far, the most heavily studied and debated are the decisions made by Captain Jacob Velhuyzen van Zanten to take off without clearance, as well as refuse input from fellow pilots and ignore the orders given by air traffic control operators. As a result, this tragedy has directly led to the implementation of massive changes in how cockpit communication is conducted around the world. In the case of large commercial planes, it is no longer the case that one individual is charged with making unquestioned decisions. Rather, there are practices in place which emphasize the importance of dynamic leadership and decision making across hierarchical levels (Costly, Johnson, & Lawson, 1989; Nevile, 2013; Stepniczka et al., 2015). Additionally, automation is also becoming increasingly important both in the air and on the ground (Naranji, Sarkani, & Mazzuchi, 2015). The Tenerife plane crash drew a great deal of attention to the importance of pilot leadership dynamics, and, though the current state of cockpit communication is not without flaws, the airline community has made steps in the right direction.