Decision support automation research

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Authors: Michele Heiney
Ben Willems

Willems, B., & Heiney, M. (2002). Decision support automation research in the en route air traffic control environment (DOT/FAA/CT-TN02/10). Atlantic City International Airport: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


This study examined the effect of automated decision support on Certified Professional Controller (CPC) behavior. Sixteen CPCs from Air Route Traffic Control Centers participated in human-in-the-loop simulations. CPCs controlled two levels of traffic, supported by either paper flight strips, electronic flight strips with conflict indication, or conflict probe and trial planning automation. Each CPC worked as either a radar or a data controller. The controller station included a display system replacement console and a prototype decision support tool (DST). The station consisted of operational hardware and software connected to an operational Host Computer System (HCS). The HCS received simulated radar from the William J. Hughes Technical Center Target Generation Facility. We assessed CPC behavior by using instruments that assessed situation awareness (SA), workload, visual scanning, trust, and performance. An increase in traffic or automation or working as a data controller lowered SA. An increase in traffic or automation or working as a radar controller increased workload. An increase in automation shifted the focus of the data controller from the radar display to the DST, whereas, an increase in traffic shifted the focus more to the radar display. With an increase in traffic or a decrease in automation, the trust in automation decreased. If subject matter experts indicated a difference between conditions, it involved better CPC performance under lower traffic and more automated conditions. The results have implications for controller training, distribution of responsibilities within controller teams, and air traffic control human-computer interface design.