Date of Award


Access Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation


Doctoral Studies

Committee Chair

Tim Brady, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Andrew R. Dattel, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Dennis A. Vincenzi, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Paul A. Craig, Ed.D.


This dissertation examined pilot behavioral traps in the multi-crew Part 121 air carrier environment. Behavioral traps are accident-inducing operational pitfalls aviators may encounter as a result of poor decision making. The traps studied were: Loss of Situational Awareness; Neglect of Flight Planning, Preflight Inspections and Checklists; Peer Pressure; Get-There-Itis; and Unauthorized Descent Below an Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) Altitude. The purpose of this dissertation was to study the nature of their occurrence in the airline domain. Another key component was to explore the relationships between the behavioral traps and factors such as pilot age, pilot flight experience, weather, flight conditions, time of day, and the first officer certification level.

The dissertation was conducted using an archival combined-methods methodology. Four subject matter experts analyzed 34 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident reports. Behavioral traps were found in all accidents with Loss of Situational Awareness and Neglect of Flight Planning, Preflight Inspections, and Checklists dominant. The SMEs were able to identify many pilot actions that were representative of the behavioral traps.

During the qualitative analysis, various themes began to emerge which played important roles in many accidents. These emerging themes were Crew Resource Management issues, Fatigue, Airline Management, and Flying Outside the Envelope. The quantitative analysis discovered a moderate correlation, r = -.34, p = .05, between the Captain’s Flight Experience and the behavioral trap Unauthorized Descent Below an IFR Altitude. No other correlations were found to be significant between the variables and the behavioral traps. The findings of this study indicated that behavioral traps were prevalent in airline accidents including habitual noncompliance by pilots. Further research should focus on other flight domains and other informational sources such as air taxi operators, incident accounts, and flight recorded data. Attitude management training is recommended.