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Human Factors and Behavioral Neurobiology

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Historically, general aviation (GA) accidents have been overlooked and their impact under-appreciated when compared with those in the commercial or military sector. Recently however, the Federal Aviation Administration and other governmental and civilian organizations have focused their attention on one piece of this proverbial “iceberg,” that being GA accidents occurring in Alaska. This study examines more than 17,000 GA accidents using the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System. Comparisons of Alaska to the rest of the U.S. (RoUS) included traditional demographic and environmental variables, as well as the human errors committed by aircrews. Overall, categorical differences among unsafe acts (decision errors, skill-based errors, perceptual errors, and violations) committed by pilots involved in accidents in Alaska and those in the RoUS were minimal. However, a closer inspection of the data revealed notable variations in the specific forms these unsafe acts took within the accident record. Specifically, skill-based errors associated with loss of directional control were more likely to occur in Alaska than the rest of the U.S. Likewise, the decision to utilize unsuitable terrain was more likely to occur in Alaska. Additionally, accidents in Alaska were associated with violations concerning Visual Flight Rules into Instrument Meteorological Conditions. These data provide valuable information for those government and civilian programs tasked with improving GA safety in Alaska and the RoUS.


Washington, DC

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Dr. Shappell was not affiliated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the time this report was published.