Human Factors And Humanu2013Computer Interaction Considerations In NextGen

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Intl. Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 28: 75–76, 2012
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1044-7318 print / 1532-7590 online
DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2012.634749
Human Factors and Human–Computer Interaction
Considerations in NextGen
Kim-Phuong L. Vu
California State University Long Beach Center for Human Factors in Advanced Aeronautics Technologies, a Group 5 NASA
University Research Center, Long Beach, California, USA
The number of aircraft that will be operating in the U.S.
National Airspace System is expected to increase drastically
over the next several decades (Federal Aviation Administration,
2011), due in part to increased demands in passenger travel
and cargo transportation. To accommodate this growth in air
traffic density as well as to ensure that travel is safe, efficient,
and environmentally responsible, several federal organizations
are working under the Joint Planning and Development Office
(2011a) to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation
System (NextGen). Although, NextGen is focused on the U.S.
air traffic management system, similar efforts are being made
around the world, such as the Single European Sky Project taken
by Eurocontrol and the European Commission (see http://www. for more information). As such,
readers of IJHCI interested in aviation, air traffic management,
and the development of complex sociotechnological systems
should have much to gain from reading the articles in this
special issue.
According to the Joint Planning and Development Office’s
(2011b) Human Factors Research Coordination Plan document,
“the human is the most important element in the air transporta-
tion system and must be considered first and foremost in the
design of improvements to it” (p. 3). This quote captures the
importance of taking a human-centered approach to developing
and testing new technologies and procedures for NextGen. Only
with this approach can we expect to yield the most benefits from
NextGen. Thus, the goal of this special issue on Human Factors
and Human–Computer Interaction Considerations in NextGen
was to highlight research and theory being conducting in the
field that focuses on how NextGen technologies and procedures
will impact the human–computer interaction.
This issue consists of six articles from researchers and prac-
titioners in the field. The lead article by Prevot, Homola, Martin,
Mercer, and Cabrall provides an overview of research on sepa-
ration assurance in NextGen being conducted at NASA Ames
Research Center’s Airspace Operations Laboratory. Prevot
and colleagues review the results from three simulations that
were designed to determine whether the concept of automated
separation assurance can be incorporated into air traffic control
operations in a manner that results in safe operations and is
acceptable to the human operators. Results from the simula-
tions suggest that the use of automated separation assurance is
indeed a feasible concept for NextGen. However, the simulation
series also highlighted the need for further technical and proce-
dural developments in order to support the implementation of
automated separation assurance systems.
Although Prevot et al. show the potential benefits of using
automation in NextGen, it is known that automation has draw-
backs, such as leading to complacency or decreased situation
awareness as a consequence of the operator being taken “out-of-
the-loop” (see, e.g., Parasuraman, Sheridan, & Wickens, 2008).
The next article, by Pop, Stearman, Kazi, and Durso, investi-
gates how engagement can be used to negate the vigilance-like
qualities of a highly automated task. Participants were asked to
monitor aircraft in flow corridors for automation failure while
performing or not performing other air traffic management
tasks. They found a vigilance decrement in all conditions except
for one condition in which the operator was kept engaged in the
task by clicking on aircraft entering the flow corridor after prac-
tice. This finding has direct implications for the implementation
of NextGen automation.
The next three articles in the issue move from air traffic con-
trol to the flight deck. Vu et al.’s article examines how potential
NextGen separation assurance concepts affected pilots’ perfor-
mance, workload, and situation awareness. Three concepts of
operation were tested in which separation assurance respon-
sibility was distributed between pilots, air traffic controllers,
and automation. Vu et al. found that pilot performance on the
various flight tasks was worst when automation was respon-
sible for separation assurance of the majority of the traffic.
Pilot workload did not differ between the concepts tested, but
pilot situation awareness was highest when they were given
the responsibility for separation assurance. Thus, similar to Pop
et al.’s findings that engagement improves air traffic monitoring
performance, keeping pilots engaged in separation assurance
tasks led to beneficial outcomes.
76 K.-P. L. VU
The article by Prinzel et al. continues the use of human-
in-the-loop simulations to examine the impact of potential
NextGen concept of operations and technologies on pilot per-
formance. Pilots performed a flight interval management task,
where they were responsible for spacing behind a lead air-
craft, and manual landings in low-visibility conditions. In one
condition, the concept of Equivalent Visual Operations (EVO)
was introduced where flight crews were also responsible for
maintaining separation from the lead. EVO was tested using a
synthetic and enhanced flight vision system during nominal and
off-nominal situations where the lead aircraft was not able to
conform to the assigned spacing requirements. Pilots showed
no difference in performance between the two conditions but
improved situation awareness when employing the EVO proce-
dure. This finding led Prinzel et al. to conclude that EVO was a
feasible concept for delegated separation in NextGen.
Landry and Jacko’s article focuses on another poten-
tial NextGen operational concept for pilots executing closely
spaced parallel approaches. One method for increasing the
air traffic density is to reduce the in-trail separation of air-
craft. This technique is typically problematic in low altitude
airspace near airports, though, due to the wake turbulence pro-
duced by the preceding aircraft. Landry and Jacko report data
from a flight simulator experiment that employed a proce-
dure where the aircraft is to maintain a position within a safe
zone computed by the system. Specifically, they examined pilot
procedure-following behavior using this safe-zone procedure
under nominal and off-nominal situations where the lead air-
craft does not comply with standard protocol. They found that
pilots were able to remain in the safe zone easily, making this
procedure promising for NextGen. However, with this proce-
dure, pilots were not able to identify all of the lead aircraft’s
blunders, which can lead to unsafe conditions.
In many of the aforementioned articles, the operator’s situa-
tion awareness was assessed. Low situation awareness is a factor
known to lead to human errors (e.g., Langan-Fox, Sankey, &
Canty, 2009). As such, the effectiveness of NextGen concepts of
operation and technologies are often measured by their impact
on operator situation awareness. The final article, by Chiappe,
Vu, and Strybel, is a theoretical paper that highlights the impor-
tance of continuing to measure situation awareness in s ystems
that are highly dependent on human–computer interactions such
as NextGen. Chiappe et al. defend the view that situation aware-
ness is situated, meaning that operators rely on their interactions
with external tools provided by the system to maintain their
awareness. This view implies that metrics for measuring sit-
uation awareness in NextGen must be administered in a way
that allows operators access to their tools and work environ-
ment. Chiappe et al. also illustrate how the situated approach
can be used to explain the acquisition of situation awareness in
teams, as well as how the approach can be used to guide applied
research relating to the evaluation and development of concepts
and technologies for NextGen.
The authors of the articles in the special issue come from
academia, government agencies, and industry. As such, the arti-
cles from this special issue should provide readers of IJHCI
detailed and varied knowledge relating to current issues, pro-
cedures, and technologies being developed and evaluated for
NextGen. This special issue should also reiterate the need to
take into account human factors and human–computer interac-
tions in the design of complex sociotechnological systems.
Federal Aviation Administration. (2011). FAA’s NextGen implen-
tation plan. Retrieved from
Joint Planning and Development Office (2011a). About us: NextGen Overview.
Available at:
Joint Planning and Development Office. (2011b). Federal Aviation
Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) Next Generation Air Transportation System Human Factors
Research Coordination Plan. Retrieved from
Langan-Fox, J., Sankey, M., & Canty, J. (2009). Human factors measurement
for future air traffic control systems. Human Factors, 51, 595–637.
Parasuraman, R., Sheridan, T. & Wickens, C. (2008). Situation awareness,
mental workload, and trust in automation: Viable, empirically supported
cognitive engineering constructs. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and
Decision Making, 2, 140–160.
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