Sources of situation awareness errors in aviation

Aviat Space Environ Med. 1996 Jun;67(6):507-12.


Background: Situation Awareness (SA) is a crucial factor in effective decision-making, especially in the dynamic flight environment. Consequently, an understanding of the types of SA errors that occur in this environment is beneficial.

Methods: This study uses reports from the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) database (accessed by the term "situational awareness") to investigate the types of SA errors that occur in aviation. The errors were classified into one of three major categories: Level 1 (failure to correctly perceive the information), Level 2 (failure to comprehend the situation), or Level 3 (failure to project the situation into the future).

Results: Of the errors identified, 76.3% were Level 1 SA errors, 20.3% were Level 2, and 3.4% were Level 3. Level 1 SA errors occurred when relevant data were not available, when data were hard to discriminate or detect, when a failure to monitor or observe data occurred, when presented information was misperceived, or when memory loss occurred. Level 2 SA errors involved a lack of or an incomplete mental model, the use of an incorrect mental model, over-reliance on default values, and miscellaneous other factors. Level 3 errors involved either an overprojection of current trends or miscellaneous other factors.

Conclusions: These results give an indication of the types and frequency of SA errors that occur in aviation, with failure to monitor or observe available information forming the largest single category. Many other causal factors are also indicated, however, including vigilance, automation problems, and poor mental models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Aviation / classification
  • Accidents, Aviation / psychology*
  • Aerospace Medicine*
  • Awareness*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Perception
  • Retrospective Studies