Thursday, December 18, 2014

Information Asynchrony

As anyone who has tried to contact me through my blog e-mail knows, I'm not amazingly responsive there. It's not by accident, and I'm not ashamed of it. While I love you guys, my blog is a hobby, and the e-mail account attached to it is like a sub-hobby of my hobby. But I happened to look at it this week, and found a request for participants in a research study on a topic that interests me: pilot-ATC communications.

It's very important that information relayed between pilots and controllers be clear and understood by both parties, but it also needs to be sent efficiently. Recently I had a controller tell me that I was hard to understand on the radio, but that it wasn't my radio, it was my rate of speech. I think it may have been that I had just switched from an extremely busy frequency with the controller speaking quickly and saying "break break" between transmissions so as to get everything said, and I had matched my rate of speech to his. But clearly if I wasn't understandable, I was overdoing it.

I'm always fascinated by tidbits of research regarding the way pilots and controllers exchange information. When given a number with a doubled digit, pilots are very likely to double the wrong digit. Does this speak to how we store "3221" and "3211" in our brains? I remember being castigated in the US for reading back a runway number as "zero five" when the controller had said only "five." In Canada there are no single digit runway numbers, and apparently when I am given a runway number I assign it to one of thirty-six pre-labelled boxes in my head, rather than storing the words the controller actually said. (I still think that controller was a bit of a dick, as ATC communications are supposed to accommodate international differences, but it's possible he thought I was "correcting" him, so he was slapping me down.

The researcher says,


My name is Samuel Lien and I am a graduate student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada conducting research on human factors in aviation / air traffic control. I am from Humans in Complex Systems Lab. Information can be found here.

I am writing this to ask if you might be able to help me, or direct me to someone who could help me create exposure to a study I am conducting that looks at the effect of information asynchrony on pilot-ATC communication. The study will be conducted completely online.

We are interested in professional pilots, preferably commercial license and air traffic controllers (any domain) as our subject-matter expert and participants for the study.

Participation in this study involves going to our online experiment website from participant’s computer as the experiment will be conducted online. Participation in this study would take approximately 2 and half hours of your time. I would like to assure you that the study has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through a University of Waterloo Research Ethics Committee.

The online experiment website is here: I haven't opened it yet, because I'm told it will take approximately 2.5 hours to complete. That's quite a chunk of time, but I intend to do it, because I think it will contribute to safety.

As far as I can tell, the information asynchrony under study is pilots getting information at times other than when they actually need it. Maybe when I've done the questionnaire, I'll know what they mean.

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