Workload or Task Management

in Aeronautical Decision Making

One component of SRM is workload or task management. Research shows that humans have a limited capacity for information. Once information flow exceeds the person’s ability to mentally process the information, any additional information becomes unattended or displaces other tasks and information already being processed. Once this situation occurs, only two alternatives exist: shed the unimportant tasks or perform all tasks at a less than optimal level. Like an overloaded electrical circuit, either the consumption must be reduced or a circuit failure is experienced.

Effective workload management ensures essential operations are accomplished by planning and then placing them in a sequence that avoids work overload. As a pilot gains experience, he or she learns to recognize future workload requirements and can prepare for high workload periods during times of low workload.


Reviewing the appropriate chart and setting radio frequencies well in advance of need help reduce workload as a flight nears the airport. In addition, a pilot should listen to Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS), Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), or Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), if available, and then monitor the tower frequency or Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) to get a good idea of what traffic conditions to expect. Checklists should be performed well in advance so there is time to focus on traffic and ATC instructions. These procedures are especially important prior to entering a high density traffic area, such as Class B airspace.

To manage workload, items should be prioritized. For example, during any situation, and especially in an emergency, a pilot should remember the phrase “aviate, navigate, and communicate.” This means that the first thing a pilot should do is make sure the helicopter is under control, then begin flying to an acceptable landing area. Only after the first two items are assured should a pilot try to communicate with anyone.

Another important part of managing workload is recognizing a work overload situation. The first effect of high workload is that a pilot begins to work faster. As workload increases, attention cannot be devoted to several tasks at one time, and a pilot may begin to focus on one item. When a pilot becomes task saturated, there is no awareness of additional inputs from various sources, so decisions may be made on incomplete information, and the possibility of error increases.

A very good example of this is inadvertent IMC. Once entering into bad weather, work overload becomes immediate. Mentally, the pilot must transition from flying outside of the aircraft to flying inside the aircraft. Losing all visual references can cause sensory overload and the ability to think rationally is gone. Instead of trusting the aircrafts instruments, pilots try to hang on to the little visual references that they have and forget all about the other factors surrounding them. Instead of slowing the helicopter down they increase airspeed. Because they are looking down for visual references they forget about the hazards in front of them and finally, because they are not looking at the flight instruments, the aircraft is not level. All of this can be avoided by proper training and proper planning. If going inadvertent IMC is your only course of action, pilots must commit to it and fly the helicopter using only the flight instruments and not trying to follow what little visual references they have.

When a work overload situation exists, a pilot needs to:

  • Stop,
  • Think,
  • Slow down, and then
  • Prioritize.

It is important for a pilot to understand how to decrease workload by:

  • Placing a situation in the proper perspective,
  • Remaining calm, and
  • Thinking rationally.

These key elements reduce stress and increase the pilot’s ability to fly safely. They depend upon the experience, discipline, and training that each safe flight earns. It is important to understand options available to decrease workload. For example, setting a radio frequency may be delegated to another pilot or passenger, freeing the pilot to perform higher priority tasks.

51l0aN891BL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_Are you ready to start your journey learning to fly helicopters? Learning to Fly Helicopters, Second Edition, provides details on the technical and practical aspects of rotarywing flight. Written in a conversational style, the book demystifies the art and science of helicopter flying.


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