Music Appreciation and Maintenance Human Factors

When you don’t understand or appreciate a particular music genre it “all sounds the same.” Let me explain. If you don’t like classical, opera, folk, rap, or hip hop music, when you hear those genres of music you can’t differentiate among the artists; you can’t identify the era of the recording; because you just don’t care. When you like a certain genre of music, say rock or country, you know if the tune is old or new, the name of the artist, and you maybe even went to the concert. You like the new stuff and even the old tunes. You appreciate the subtleties of your kind of music. 

I have come to the conclusion that the analogy to music genres appreciation helps explain when individuals say that all human factors initiatives are the same and have gone unchanged. They throw around comments like “HF is more than the Dirty Dozen, PEAR, or the Swiss Cheese.” They know just enough buzzwords to be dangerous. They don’t appreciate the artists, can’t identify the subtleties of interventions, and generally are not fans of “human factors.” But, they are the target fans that must be convinced of the value of HF programs.

Is there a solution?

It may be very difficult for an opera star to convince the county/rock fan to change their listening/appreciation and buying patterns. Each can exist without the other, so that is OK. That is not the same situation with regards to human factors in maintenance. The industry needs everyone on board. Success is not based on record sales but on the success of evolved safety cultures. That includes such programs as:

• voluntary reporting systems;

• detailed root cause analyses to determine HF contributing factors;

• continued initial and recurrent HF training for all employees including HF trainers;

• implementation of fatigue risk management programs;

• addressing the issues associated with failure to follow procedures;

• continuing participation in government/industry HF forums;

• human factors for all maintenance staff, including managers and executives; and more. 

The fact that HF contributes to 80 percent of events is testimony that ongoing HF initiatives are absolutely necessary and must involve everyone.

Catering to the fan base

Music stars cater to their fan base. They are also always trying to attract new listeners. They do that by establishing web sites, twitter accounts, newsletters, and other media. They get out on the concert tours to meet the loyalists. They release new albums to ensure continued fan loyalty. They may record a duo with an artist from another musical genre, like the recent Lionel Richie country album. These activities may also help grow the fan base. Let’s compare that to the promotion of human factors activities.

First, there must be an ongoing flow of fresh information. The FAA maintenance HF web site has been around since 1995. It has been in a continuous state of update. It contains more than 1,700 human factors specific reports dating back to the initial series of maintenance human factors conferences, starting in 1988. In fact, it serves as the sole online source of a handpicked (by Hon. John Goglia, NTSB Ret.) collection of human factors related aircraft accidents dating back to the '50s. The site contains a variety of HF training media, and even fatigue assessment software that is updated almost monthly. The site is currently undergoing complete interface revision, likely launched by the time you read this article ( or

There are many other sources for current material. The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, with Flight Standards, publishes a quarterly maintenance human factors newsletter. It is one click away from the FAA HF home page. Other examples of timely digital media are the Aviation Human Factors Industry News (Roger Hughes) and the Cygnus AMT Weekly News (Ron Donner, AMTSociety). Roger Hughes concentrates on HF while Ron Donner adds HF as it relates to weekly events.

The Chief Scientist/Technical Advisor program, working with CAMI, conducts an annual small workshop to identify challenges and solutions related to maintenance human factors. That multi-disciplinary group, including HF naysayers, has consistently said that the industry needs help with HF issues surrounding like:

• technical documentation;

• worker fatigue;

• proving the payoff of HF interventions;

• effective local use of data from voluntary reporting;

• communicating HF issues;

• fostering a just culture; and more

Ongoing FAA HF activity is based on the recommendations from that workshop.

If there were HF concerts then the FAA Maintenance Human Factors Symposia would be the maintenance HF Woodstock. Those meetings (co-sponsored by FAA, A4A, UKCAA and Transport Canada) had a positive impact over a 20-year period, starting in 1988. There has been a reduction in these over the last few years. However, the FAA Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) InfoShare meeting has provided an excellent replacement forum for human factors information. In addition, there are occasional high value commercial international maintenance human factors conferences. In order to win over new advocates and to reinforce the fan base, a maintenance HF symposium is overdue.

When Lionel Richie joined with the county singers for an album of duets he created an extremely successful product. The same way, human factors activities must harmonize with other programs. That should include voluntary reporting programs and the total safety management system, among others. 

Finally, maintenance human factors must prove its value. The money/time spent must have a financial and/or safety return (see July 2012 AMT Magazine). EASA recently cited FAA’s Return on Investment Process (See as a way to show the financial and safety payback on proposed SMS/Fatigue regulations. When you can demonstrate the impact of HF interventions it helps to win over supporters.

Keeping it fresh

The new hits must continue to emerge. New songs keep the fans and also ensure that “oldies but goodies” are revisited. Maintenance HF programs have been around since the late '80s. The old list of favorites includes the Dirty Dozen, the Swiss Cheese, and PEAR. But those old concepts/hits must be reinforced with new information and new media. The new training materials from CASA (see September 2013 AMT Magazine) are an excellent example that can result from an investment in content, graphics, and multimedia. The FAA fatigue training materials and the movie, “Grounded,” also exemplify the new materials.

Human factors trainers have relied on certain accidents for group work and discussions. If the aircraft was built before the students were born then you should consider new examples. The best stories seem to come from local voluntary reports and from the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). Of course, the occasional NTSB reports provide great factual data.

No Grammy nominations

Maintenance human factors programs and interventions don’t have an annual awards show. Those awards are reduced worker injury, decreased aircraft damage, rework, or delay; and continuing flight safety. There is no annual Grammy Awards night. Instead, the payback and awards occur daily as the industry continues to deliver safe and cost-effective transportation to the world.

Dr. William Johnson is the FAA Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Human Factors in Aircraft Maintenance Systems, for the past 10 years. He comments based on nearly 50 years combined experience as pilot/mechanic; professor; engineering consulting, airline/MRO, and FAA scientific executive.