The University of Newcastle, Australia

UON Research Improving Safety and Efficacy of Air Traffic Control

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Air Traffic Control is a critical function of civilian and domestic aviation. The safety of personnel in the aircraft and on base relies upon the Air Traffic Controllers’ (ATCs) ability to manage multiple, high-attention tasks like the identification of unusual or suspicious behaviour in local and incoming air traffic.

A plane flying through the clouds

In early 2018, The University of Newcastle’s Cognitive Psychology team including Prof Scott Brown, A/Prof Ami Eidels and Mr Zachary Brown, were working with a local Defence software company to help them see how the cognitive load of ATCs was affected by their software platform and the resulting impact on decision-making. The goal here was to optimise the presentation of information to ATCs to improve threat detection and improve safety outcomes.

Discussions about this research between NI, OPVCRI and the RAAF at Williamtown opened up further opportunities, leading to a problem statement being submitted by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to the NSW Defence Innovation Network (DIN). The result was a much broader $240,000 DIN-funded project headed up by A/Prof Eugene Nalivaiko at the Faculty of Health, supported by Scott Brown and Ami Eidels at the Newcastle Cognition Laboratory, and Prof Rohan Walker in the Faculty of Health’s Advanced Training Systems Group.

The project seeks to develop new methods to assess and monitor cognitive load in ATCs and represents a multi-disciplinary and multi-university approach, with investigators from Psychology at UON, Artificial Intelligence (Professor Chin-Teng Lin, UTS) and Human Performance (Associate Professor Sabina Kleitman, USyd). The breadth of the project in combining software engineering with health and psychology is a fantastic example of the benefits of broad collaboration and the outcomes will be watched with interest by the ADF.

The project will involve an extensive collaboration with the 44 Wing Air Traffic Control unit based at RAAF Williamtown, NSW, Australia and will run across the course of 2020.

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