Human Factors in Aviation Accidents

Aviation Accidents

Even though the number of flight incidents is steadily decreasing over the last decade, aviation news is filled with headlines about incidents. From abnormal runway contact to loss of control in-flight, everything seems to get a headline blaming the aircraft manufacturers.

It is undeniable that new aircraft technologies can prevent many incidents or sometimes be the cause of them. But many aviation accidents are still caused by factors that cannot be avoided by computers and better machinery. All these factors relate to how humans behave during flight.

Mistakes Of The Crew

Errors of pilots

Operating an aircraft is a complicated task. Pilots must complete rigorous training and have thousands of in-flight hours to be experienced enough for commercial flights with passengers. Despite the training and experience, pilot errors are one of the main causes of incidents.

Going through a before-take-off checklist is one of the main tasks of a pilot before a flight. It includes calculating the amount of fuel for the trip, checking the weather conditions, flight controls, engines, radios, radar systems, and many other essentials.

Ignoring the before-take-off checklist is one of the reasons why Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed just right after takeoff. The pilots didn’t follow a complete checklist and skipped a reminder about setting the plane’s flaps. It resulted in a greatly reduced rate of climb for the plane.

Fatigue from working long hours is one of the main excuses used by pilots for their failure. Airlines, especially cheap ones, push their pilot and crew members to work longer hours. They pay large bonuses for additional trips, so pilots often work longer than 12-hour shifts.

Although there are some regulations, the working conditions of aircrew are hard to enforce. Airlines are reluctant to give full information, and the plane can change multiple jurisdictions in one trip.

Usually, we learn about the problems of pilot fatigue only after the crash has already happened. This was the case of Flydubai Flight 981. It flew from Dubai to Rostov Airport in Russia. The landing took place at night with poor weather conditions of rain showers, haze, and strong winds. 

The pilot didn’t manage to land the plane successfully, which resulted in the deaths of everyone on board. Despite the harsh conditions, the biggest factor of the crash was the operational tiredness of the crew. A well-rested pilot would have changed the airport or chosen a more appropriate landing speed.

The impact of flight attendants

There are instances when the actions of flight attendants are important too. In the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242, the flight attendants were not informed about the exact details of the crash. They followed a standard procedure and asked all the passengers to remove their shoes.

The protocol asked this to reduce the risk of damaging the evacuation slides once the plane has made the emergency landing in water. However, the attendants did not know that the plane was landing in circumstances that didn’t allow for the use of slides. 

The plane hit the ground at a great speed, creating a lot of debris in the aircraft cabin. Many passengers have taken some minor injuries to their feet. It could have been avoided if the flight attendants would have known more details about the exact conditions of the emergency landing.

Poor Air Traffic Control

Unlike most other modes of transport, planes are not only controlled from the inside. Air Traffic control centers are crucial for the movement of aircraft. They direct planes on the ground and in mid-air to ensure efficiency and safety. Poor decisions or inaction of air traffic control have caused numerous accidents.

Aeroflot Flight 3352 was a plane crash caused by multiple mistakes of controllers in the air traffic center. The landing plane was not informed about a fuel truck on the runway and hit it. The air traffic control center is responsible for preventing such incursions at airports. 

Due to other tasks, the two senior controllers were unavailable, and the only other controller left in the air control tower was asleep. Due to such incidents, many airports have strict rules on mandatory brakes for air controllers.

Another example is a Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision between a Saudi Arabian Boeing 747 and Kazakhian Ilyushin Il. It resulted in well over 300 deaths and even made the Indian government pass new legislation. One of the most important was the requirement for all planes to include an airborne collision avoidance system.

The crash happened because of miscommunication between the pilots and air controllers. The air controllers at the Indian airport were unable to give the correct calculations since the Kazakhi plane used the metric system. It resulted in the landing of Ilyushin Il taking the same lane as the Boeing 747.

Improper Aircraft Maintenance

Most travelers do not know how much maintenance an aircraft requires. Planes require routine inspections and adjustments, as even the smallest malfunction can be lethal.

It all is complicated even more by the fact that Aircraft mechanics and technicians require high specialization. Every airplane differs, and special knowledge is needed to keep them in the air successfully. Airlines often save on repairs by assigning engineers that aren’t specialists in a particular aircraft.

It was the cause of the tragic incident of Air Midwest Flight 5481. The plane crashed just after landing because the nose of the plane began to pitch up uncontrollably. Both pilots pushed on the control column, but it was inactive and did not reduce the altitude of the plane’s take-off.

Later investigation revealed that the plane crashed due to the mechanics’ fault. The elevator control cable, which changes the plane’s rising altitude, was adjusted incorrectly. Most probably because the mechanic working on it had no prior experience with such a plane type.


Plain crew, air traffic control centers, and airport maintenance teams are all critical for a successful flight. The examples we provided here clearly illustrate that there is plenty of room for human mistakes in any of them.

Read More: How to Pack Your Carry-on Luggage Smartly?