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The Distraction of Glass

If you fly with electronic flight displays, including carry on devices, do you find that you are inclined to spend more time looking inside the aircraft than outside when flying VFR?

We all develop what are called habitual behavior patterns. We have ways of interacting with something, and then we do the same thing in the same situation over and over. So, our habitual behavior pattern when we interact with screens typically involves staring at them for extended periods of time. Think about your work computer or scrolling social media on your phone. When we get into the aircraft, it’s easy to fall into the same pattern and become absorbed with the flight displays and lose situational awareness. That’s true of a glass panel or other tablet or screen. Failure to consistently scan outside of the aircraft is common.

Loss of situational awareness is a common cause of aviation accidents, and fixation on all the information a digital display offers can be just as dangerous as fixation on a minor aircraft problem, a specific instrument, or a distracting passenger.

Habitual behavior patterns aren’t all bad. Think of aircraft pre-flight or preparing for an approach. Repeated actions can build efficiency and reduce errors.

So, minimise your fixation issues by building the right habit patterns. First, be thoroughly familiar with your on board and carry on devices. The more time spent searching for the right button or screen, the less time you have to look outside. Simulators and practice time with a ground power unit are great ways to master on board equipment. For carry on devices you should fully familiarise yourself with the features and operation, including simulatiing a flight if that feature is available, before using it in flight. Be sure your systems and devices are up to date and you can easily locate the features you need.

When you get into the aircraft, build the habit pattern you want. Practice minimal interaction with your screens in flight with conscious breaks between long inputs of data or knob turning to just look outside and fly. Place your carry on device where it is in your line of sight for the windscreen without blocking your view. Finally, resist the temptation to use any personal devices not needed for the flight.


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