Music Appreciation And 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 or identify an era of the recording. Because you just don’t care.

However, when you like a certain genre of music, you know the name of the artist, whether the tune is old or new. You appreciate the subtleties because it’s your kind of music.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the analogy to music appreciation helps explain why 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 discuss the topic, but they don’t appreciate the artists, can’t identify the subtleties of interventions, and generally are not big fans of “human factors.” But they do present a potential new market 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.

But that’s not the same situation with regards to human factors. 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;
  • initial and recurrent HF training for all employees including HF trainers;
  • fatigue risk management programs;
  • addressing the issues associated with failure to follow procedures;
  • continuing to participate in government/industry HF forums.

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



Music stars cater to their fan bases. They are also always trying to attract new listeners. They do that by establishing websites, 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 duet with an artist from another musical genre. 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 HF website, for example, has been around since 1995, and since then it has been in a continuous state of update. Currently, it contains more than 1,700 human factors specific reports dating back to the initial series of human factors conferences in 1988. In fact, it serves as the sole online source of a handpicked (by John Goglia, retired NTSB official and Ground Support Worldwide blogger) collection of human factors-related aviation accidents dating back to the 1950s. The site contains a variety of HF training media, and even fatigue assessment software that is updated practically every month. In fact, the site is currently undergoing a complete interface revision, which will likely be launched by the time you read this article. (Log on to or

In addition, there are many other sources for current material. For example, the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, along with the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, publishes a quarterly human factors newsletter. It is one click away from the FAA HF home page.

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

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

If there were HF concerts, however, particularly when it comes to a specialized focus on the aircraft maintenance industry, 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 since the first meeting some 20 years ago.

Although there has been a reduction in these meeting over the last few years, 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 human factors conferences. However, in order to win over new advocates and to reinforce the fan base, another maintenance HF symposium is overdue.

Like duets, human factors activities must harmonize with other programs. That should include voluntary reporting programs and the total safety management system among others.

Finally, human factors must prove its value. The money/time spent must have a financial and/or safety return (For more details, see “How To Prove The Value Of Safety” October 2011 Ground Support Worldwide). In a related and more recent addition to the subject, the European Aviation Agency cited the FAA’s Return on Investment Process as a way to show the financial and safety payback on proposed SMS/Human Fatigue regulations. When you can demonstrate the impact of HF interventions it helps to win over supporters. (There’s more on this process at



The new hits must continue to emerge. New songs keep the fans and also ensure that “oldies, but goodies” are revisited.

HF programs have been around since the late-1980s. 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 Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, for example, has set a new international standard for high-quality human factors training materials. The FAA fatigue training materials and the movie, “Grounded,” also exemplify new materials.

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

When it comes to HF, there is one thought where we won’t find a match with the music industry. There isn’t any one annual Grammy Awards ceremony. Instead, however, our awards can come anytime we reduce worker injury, decrease aircraft damage, stop rework and delays that come with not performing a task the right way and continue to increase flight safety for everyone. That recognition can occur every day 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.