Date of Award


Access Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation


College of Aviation

Committee Chair

David A. Esser, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Haydee M. Cuevas, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Alan J. Stolzer, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Tony Kern, Ed.D.


The objective of this study was to understand pilots’ proclivity toward automation usage by identifying the relationship among pilot training, aircraft and systems understanding, safety culture, manual flight behavior, and aviation passion. A survey instrument titled Manual Flight Inventory (MFI) was designed to gather and assess self-reported variables of manual flight behavior, aviation passion, safety culture perception, pilot training, and pilot understanding. Demographic data and automation opinion-based questions were also asked to fully understand pilots’ thoughts on automation, safety culture, policies, procedures, training methodologies and assessment measures, levels of understanding, and study techniques. Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) was utilized to identify underlying factors from the data, followed by confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to confirm the factor structure. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was utilized to test the relationships between the variables. All hypotheses were significant; however, four of the thirteen hypotheses were not supported due to a negative relationship. The significant predictors of manual flight were identified to be pilot understanding, pilot training, aviation passion, and safety culture. Pilots’ understanding of the aircraft operating systems was determined to have the greatest influence over a pilot’s decision to manually fly. Aviation passion was identified as the second largest influencing factor. Pilot training had the greatest influence over pilot understanding, and safety culture presented the greatest influence over pilot training. Results identified that safety culture was negatively impacting pilot training, and pilot training had a negative influence over pilots’ decision to manually fly. The contributions of this research have identified the significance of safety culture as associated with Safety Management Systems (SMS) as an influencing factor over pilot training and resultant operational performance. Pilot understanding is a direct result of pilot training, and current training practices are negatively influencing the decision for manual flight. Therefore, a solution to the industry problem—operational confusion (understanding), as well as guidance versus control (Abbott, 2015), and the lack of hand flying skills and monitoring ability (OIG, 2016)—can now be addressed by improving training practices. Future research and recommendations were provided.