Automation system designers should consider all potential operational uses and monitor for unintended use after implementation.

The complexity of air traffic management coupled with individual differences in user performance can lead to a wide variety of methods for operating a given automation system. Often in an attempt to maximize the benefits of an automation system, users may improvise or experiment completing tasks in varying sequences, displaying information in a different way or using system functions for tasks that they were not designed for. How a specific user will use the system in a specific circumstance can be difficult to predict during automation design.

Why It's Important

Unanticipated operational risk can be introduced when the actual use of the automation system does not match the intended use. The user may have the best of intentions. In some cases, unintended use of the automation can provide a benefit to the user. Even in beneficial cases of unintended use however, users may be unwittingly side-stepping safety barriers or operating the automation in a way that was not properly vetted through a safety analysis. Additionally, operational team members may not be able to assist in a difficult situation when a user is not following standard operating procedures for the equipment.

Design and Implementation Considerations

The correct operation of automation starts with operational functional requirements derived from working with closely with future users from the beginning of the design process and by understanding the context in which users work. Next, automation system designers should guard against foreseen unintended uses through system functionality and testing. A further mitigation is to warn users against improper uses and to train them to follow standard operating procedures. Lastly, operational managers should monitor users for unintended uses. Systematic or widespread procedure violations and unintended uses may signal design and/or procedure problems. Data collected about unintended uses should be put to use for improving the automation in future releases. In cases where controllers are finding a benefit from an unintended use of automation, operational managers should complete a safety assessment to revise operational procedures.

Further Reading on Methods of Operation

Humans and Automation: Use, Misuse, Disuse, and Abuse – Raja Parasuraman & Victor Riley

Automation and the Human: Intended and Unintended Consequences – John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the Human_Intended and Unintended Consequences - Roundtable Summary.pdf

Automation in the Cockpit – The HART Group Review Automation in the Cockpit Deliverable 1.pdf