Globalization is acknowledged by many as a positive driving force in modern society that has led increased global integration of political, economic and sociocultural practices that have transformed the world into a global society. In this case, increased advancement and positive developments in the field of transportation especially in relation to air travel have contributed greatly to this continuous trend which allows people to travel from one part of the world to another where they share a lot of things.

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Despite the positive developments in air travel, many aircraft accidents and incidents continue to occur which not only places the lives of large numbers of people in grave danger but also inhibits positive trends like globalization. More so is the existence of such major organizations like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) which deal with issues of transportation especially with regards to safety regulations considering the numerous operations and activities carried out in airports. However, a report on aircraft accidents prepared by the Bureau of Safety Investigation (BASI, 1996) on behalf of the department of transport and regional development identifies the major cause of aircraft accidents and incidents (over 70 percent) as being caused by human factors.

This paper examines the crucial role of human factors in in aircraft accidents caused by senior management, line managers and employees specific to actual aviation accidents involving the Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, the Tenerife Airport Disaster and the Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182.

Specifically, the report by the Bureau of Safety Investigation cites collision with terrain and objects which may be varied including trees, the loss of control by pilots as well as poor judgment and decision making, as some of the most recurrent causes of aircraft accidents (BASI, 1996). Other human factors that cause these accidents include engine failure and/or malfunction specifically tied to shoddy maintenance work by engineers, poor in-flight decision making and planning as well as flight in inclement weather, inattention as well as inadequate flying skills or experience and poor pre-flight preparation. Mid-air collision between planes from separate directions as well as from the same direction, undershoot and airframes failure deliberate engagement in unauthorized risky flight maneuvers like low flying or flying without fuel and also a hard landing. However, aircraft accidents are considered to be caused by a multiplicity or buildup of factors including the weather, the environment in terms of firm elements and terrain especially when taking off or landing, the integrity of the airplane’s frame and the numerous human factors.

This explanation is provided with reference to the Swiss Cheese Model in another report by Reason, Hollnagel & Paries (2005) on behalf of the Eurocontrol Experimental Centre regarding assessment of how human factors contribute to aircraft accidents. Specifically, the model states that accidents occurring in complex system like those involved in management of flight are occasioned by a combination of numerous factors which create a risky environment that initiates the occurrence of accidents. Specific characteristics of the organization with regards to aspects such as ineffective communication, inadequate training and development, hierarchical leadership and the organizational culture, which may also trigger poor decision making and judgement calls may stimulate accident occurrence. This can be cited as the case involving the crash of the Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 where the cause of the accident involved multiple factors including flight crew distraction, inadequate monitoring of flight instruments and potential personal factors involving the captain’s abilities (BASI, 1972).

The accident report on the Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 by the Bureau of Aviation Safety indicates that the flight originated from New York and was heading to Florida when the plane’s green light, meant to signal preparation for safe landing failed to illuminate and the crew had to assess the failure (BASI, 1972). The flight crew contacted the Miami approach control and got directions to stall the plane’s landing until the green light was repaired where the captain had to discuss with and direct the first and second officers towards fixing the problem while still communicating with approach control. These activities created an environment full of distraction where the crew failed to hear a C-chord pitch and notice the plane’s deviation from the instructed course which the approach control assumed was a normal occurrence after which the crew noted the deviation too late and crashed in the everglades.

Potential ‘subtle incapacitation’ of the pilot after he was found to have a brain tumor that could have affected his peripheral vision and intentional adjustment of the throttles by the pilots where distraction of the flight crew especially the captain and the pilots caused the plane to crash (BASI, 1972). Additionally, the causes of the crash are blamed on approach control as flight instruments were all okay. As such, the situational factor revolved around the distraction created by the malfunction of the green light which led the pilots and the captain to focus on the problem without focusing on flying the plane. The specific human factor entailed lack of following procedures by the flight crew where the captain should have instructed one pilot to remain on the controls while the approach control could also have inquired about the deviation in a timely fashion.

Billings & Reynard (1984) support that many aviation accidents are caused by human factors not only in terms of loss of control that lead to fatal flight route deviations but also basic factors like complacency and boredom of the flight crew, among other preventable factors. In line with this, the crash of the Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182 which involved a collision between a commercial Boeing 727 and private Cessna 172 in California killing over a hundred people was caused by the crew’s failure to follow the flight procedures. This is according to the report by the NTSB (1979) where lack of effective communication between air traffic control and the pilots of the Boeing 727 and the private Cessna where the former hit the latter from the top as miscommunication directed them to the same direction. However, fault was also directed to senior managers at air traffic control as they were supposed to direct the aircraft in completely different directions so as not disrupt the flight of a big commercial airliner.

From a Swiss Cheese Model perspective, it is evident that communication between air traffic control and the two airplanes set the occurrence of the accident in motion as the pilots of the two planes relied on their direction in avoiding each other even though the crew did not also follow the right procedures (NTSB, 1979). As such, the situational factor involved this miscommunication between the pilots of the two aircraft involves miscommunication while the human factor specifically entailed lack of following air traffic control procedures by the flight crew. Of note is the contribution of the Cessna to the whole affair as its experienced flight instructor, who was teaching a lesser experienced flier, would have heeded the directions of the air traffic control managers which Reason (1998), of the Swiss Cheese Model, identifies as an active human error.

Basically, the Tenerife Airport Disaster involved the crash of a Boeing 747 on a runway in Los Rodeos Airport after air traffic was redirected to the airport because of a bomb threat in another close airport in the Canary Islands where Tenerife, is one of Spain’s islands (McCreary et al., 1998). The disaster highlights a classic case where a series of events led to the death of over 200 people beginning with the redirection of air traffic to a single inadequate airport in terms of requisite resources like radar which led to miscommunication between air traffic control and two Boeing 747 which crashed into each other. This was further worsened by the fact that the runway had a dense fog which impaired the visibility of the two Boeings even though communication problems were the major culprit. This is what McCreary et al. (1998) focuses on in terms of small group communication under stress and group dynamics where the authors show that despite training, even actions of experienced pilots could still lead to such a disaster because of those reasons.

This is because a junior employee will almost, all the time, fail to critically monitor, speak or act against his/her superior’s directives especially if the junior pilot lacks adequate experience in flying (McCreary et al., 1998). Therefore, the major human factor is identified as the reduced capability of the captain in flying after taking some long time off for new technology-oriented flight simulations. The ultimate error was in his taking off without clearance considering that his subordinates, the flight’s first officer as well as the engineer, trusted his judgment, experience and leadership to make appropriate decisions. The overriding situational factor also identified as a major contributory factor to the accident was the presence of the dense fog that greatly limited the two planes’ visibility and which was worsened by failure in communications equipment.

In summary, it is evident that aircraft accidents are indeed caused more, by human factors ranging from shoddy maintenance work and poor in-flight judgment and decision making to personal factors like inattention, inadequate flying skills or experience and stress, among others. This is the case in many aircraft accidents like the Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, the Tenerife Airport Disaster and the Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182 caused by different officers including senior management, captains and junior flight officers. In line with this, the recommendations provided in the accident reports concerning these flight accidents are highly appropriate and considering that they happened over decades ago, they have provided the aviation industry with foundational lessons in enhanced aircraft safety. However, specific recommendations for the Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 would involve further training of flight crews with regards to communication and air traffic control procedures as well as efficiency in crew operations and periodic pre-flight health check-ups. This is especially because the captain should always adhere to established flight and crisis management procedures in the cockpit environment where distractions are wont to exacerbate the level of risk of aircraft accidents.

For the Tenerife Airport Disaster, the recommendations would include provision of appropriate and requisite resources for flight management especially radar equipment, crew credentials assessment and further training of flight crews in communication dynamics. The training would also incorporate what Hunt (2006) calls nontechnical skills which would be in line with creation of culture where employees are able to politely and critically assess and question superior directives. Further crew training is also required in the case of the Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182 as the probable cause of the accident was blamed on the flight crew’s inability in following established flight procedures even though also the air traffic control was at fault as guides to the two aircraft. Reason, Hollnagel & Paries (2005) acknowledge the usefulness of the Swiss Cheese Model in assessment of human factors that may cause aviation accidents especially in relation to communication, which would provide important lessons to flight officers on what to errors avoid. All these recommendations provide a foundational step for remedying the potential loss of lives and property that accompany aviation accidents where more detailed action plans would be required for implementation.