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Free Flight Concept and Human Factors – Air Transportation Research Paper

The concept of free flight employs the use of new technological applications like TCAS and GPS in managing air traffic, thus eliminating the need for Air Traffic Control (ATC). In this concept, pilots do not confine aircraft to fly in corridors, which are about to 5% of the airspace (Endsley, 2013). Besides, free flight comes with a lot of dynamism in the flight path, speed, and altitude, as pilots will be able to set their routes freely. Free flight eliminates the idea of flying along fixed routes as having been in the past, with the management of control towers. Pilots can initiate direct flights independently when they use these computer-aided systems, thus increasing the overall efficiency. Therefore, the normal centralized control system puts overreliance on human factors at the expense of rising technology (Endsley, 2013).

In the concept of free flight, there is also a shift in the locus of control given the dynamism in decision-making at the flight path; it originates from the ground to the flight deck. The automation process provides the pilot with adequate information to help them in making vibrant decisions, which place their aircraft to safe propinquity with other airplanes. The concept transfers the roles of the controller of controlling the paths and actions of an airplane the pilots. In airborne approach, the pilots have the exclusive responsibilities of identifying and deciphering problems or challenges while in flight. Since the concept uses complex computerized systems, in case of an error, the aircraft can fly blindly.

Most aircrafts incidents and accidents have been due to human errors than mechanical failure. This has necessitated the need for analyzing various human factors that can affect the movement of aircraft by air traffic management and maintenance practices to improve safety.

According to The Boeing Company (n.d.), human factors entail acquiring information about human capabilities, weaknesses and other parameters, and inculcating them in the crew resource management (CRM) to enhance aircrafts’ safety. In the aviation industry, the entire process involves applying the human factors in machines, environment, and systems to make aircraft services effective, safe, and comfortable for all users. Markedly, human factors tend to comprehend in details how the aviation industry can integrate human actions with technology in efficient and safe ways (The Boeing Company, n.d.). After vivid conceptions, the whole concept translates into procedures, designs, and policies to improve humans’ performances within the crucial aviation industry.

Even though the technology is making inroads at high rates in the present world, human factors still play significant roles in enhancing the overall safety and progress in this lucrative industry. Humans must maintain their knowledge base, dedication, flexibility, and efficiency while making just decisions. With unpredictable rates of technological evolution, this industry keeps investing in training human personnel to make relevant decisions as per the current state. Human performance implication assessment requires a sound scientific basis that can have an overview of the design, training, and procedures.

As a way of decreasing the rates of aviation incidents and fatalities, the industry designs human-aircraft interfaces and builds up measures for maintaining technocrats and flight crews (Human Factors and Safety, n.d.). This move results in an improvement in human performances, thus advancing reliability, usability, comfort-ability, and maintainability.

Human factor specialists at the Boeing Company designs aircraft that take into concern the needs of the pilots, customers, and control operators. In essence, human factors play key roles in the aviation industry, even though technology tries to perform other human functions. As a result, specialists have to work closely with technicians, crews, engineers to include human factors when designing all planes. Some of the areas that require the inclusion of human factors include error management, flight deck design, design for in-service support, and passenger cabin design (The Boeing Company, n.d.). On flight design, safety and reliability have been the center of focus as recent developments have helped to reduce accident rates and increase efficiency.

Notably, changes in flight design in areas like engines, structures, and systems have prevented and mitigated human error. In new flight designs, Boeing ensures that recent technological applications meet the needs of customers, crew, and appropriate degree of automation requirements. For instance, the design of Boeing 777 took into concern operators’ requirements, mechanics, crews, and customers’ inputs.

Currently, human factors specialists coordinate with cognitive engineers, air traffic controllers, and flight crews in route planning and communication through data link messages (The Boeing Company, n.d.). Recent technological changes have enhanced user understanding, minimized the cost of training facilities, and reduced error rates. Under maintainability and in-service support, unrelenting attention on human factors has enhanced safety and operational efficiency. In maintenance, Boeing considers the participation of mechanics, customer support processes, and computer-aided maintainability design tools. In this functionality, human factors specialists work together with production and airline engineers in implementing airline maintenance features. In free flight, the process of transferring command authority unambiguously and dynamically between ground and air remains a major human factor (Human Factors Issues in Free Flight, n.d.). Human factors try to mitigate risks and inefficiency, thus improving the performance or success of aircraft.

Free flight enables pilots to choose path-lines and speeds of aircraft in real time. In this aspect, the development of a supervisory control strategy imposes less workload on the operator as he/she only controls the end effectors, instead of controlling the motions of the whole manipulator systems (Fallows, 2001). With free flight, the total work time that the sector controller experience reduces since some tasks are under the direct control of the pilot. Moreover, automation will improve sector productivity by reducing task time parameters. As opposed to controlled flights, free flights, routine traffic management tasks like arrangement for flight strips and hands-off acceptance continue to reduce the time related to these mandatory tasks. In times of conflict resolution, there are limited restrictions that can avert the correction of the identified problem as free flight removes numerous restrictions.

The concept also emphasizes the need for collective planning using the improved technological applications. Collaboration in service delivery reduces both the controller and the pilot’s workloads. In free flight, the pilot can use different tools that are integrated into the flight framework to validate the information from controlling authorities (Gawron, 2008). It also helps in converting large amounts of data to the required context so that the pilot can know the best possible time. The process improves the management of large amounts of information hence reducing error and improving decision-making. The automated decision-making aids support the controllers and pilots in making responsible decisions as opposed to controlled flight situation where responsibilities not shared among aircraft controllers, operators, and pilots.

Future Air Traffic Management (ATM) presents reduced roles for controllers in operating aircraft unless a variable falls below or exceeds a pre-determined value (Salas & Maurino, 2010). For Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) and pilots, the concept of free flight presents a great reduction in workloads and adjustment in situational awareness.

Safety enhancement remains a key aspect of the aviation industry. Since controllers are not actively involved in aircraft control, there are instances where a potential conflict can lead to an actual conflict where two airplanes can lose separation. Under this scenario, controllers ought to indicate the time for potential conflict detection and identify the call sign of the aircraft undergoing the problem (Fallows, 2001). Besides, controllers should also communicate to pilots in before allowing them into the sector and directs them to an adjacent sector.

Even though the concept of free flight reduces workloads, it does not eliminate humans from the system. There is also a need to increase sector productivity and make sectors smaller to prevent the challenges that accompany the sectorized system from blocking the growth of traffic. Also, there are possibilities of aircraft flying blindly if the flight zone has foreign objects. In this situation, the controller should also assist pilots in entering the protected zone to avoid a collision with other aircraft in the vicinity. Attempts to fix these challenges will remove delays, increase efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance crews’ safety. Another negative aspect is the unavailability of up-to-date information from National Aviation Services (NAS), which results in a lack of exact universal situational awareness (Gawron, 2008). Constant evaluation and institutionalization of new procedures can improve flight routing by increasing situational awareness on occurrences like congestions, bad weather, and temperature differences.


Endsley, M. R. (2013). . Web.

Fallows, J. M. (2001). Free flight: from airline hell to a new age of travel. New York: PublicAffairs. Web.

Gawron, V. J. (2008). Human performance, workload, and situational awareness measures handbook (2nd ed.). Boca Raton: CRC Press. Web.

Human Factors Issues in Free Flight. (n.d.). Air Traffic Control (ATC). 2013. Web.

Human Factors and Safety. (n.d.). . 2013. Web.

Salas, E., & Maurino, D. E. (2010). Human factors in aviation (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Academic Press/Elsevier. Web.

The Boeing Company. (n.d.). The Role of Human Factors in Improving Aviation Safety. Boeing: The Boeing Company. 2013. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Free Flight Concept and Human Factors - Air Transportation'. 9 May.

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