The cost-benefit of aviation human factors training and employee performance coaching
Introduction Since the inception of Aviation Human Factors training for astronauts at NASA in the 1970s, the aviation industry over the...


Since the inception of Aviation Human Factors training for astronauts at NASA in the 1970s, the aviation industry over the last three decades embraced Human Factors (HF) in various guises such as Crew Resource Management (CRM) training, Expected Safety Behaviours (ESB) training, and HF training per se. First out of the blocks were the airline industry who trained captains to have a more inclusive style of cockpit management, then co-pilots who were taught to be more assertive. Maintenance and air traffic control (ATC) followed and finally corporate applications of the HF principles were applied to great success. Military aviation lagged about a decade behind the civil aviation applications of HF. Nevertheless, regardless of how long HF principles and the training thereof have been applied in an aviation organisation (military or civil), both air and ground crews share their excitement and approval with corporate leaders and military commanders. While the crews realise their workplace will be safer and more enjoyable with improved employment longevity; corporate and military leaders enjoy the efficiency, savings and improved profitability HF training affords their organisations. Finally, in the current competitive economic climate where stakeholder capitalism and corporate social responsibility (CSR) plays an ever-larger role, leaders of businesses and organisations may capitalise on the notion of doing whatever they can to improve the environment for those inside the organisation and those on the side-line. Relatively inexpensive HF training may be the answer to ensure continued success among fierce competition in the marketplace. 


With its roots in Psychology, the study of human performance has applications in aviation and other industries. The social and behavioural psychology field of human performance is a complex combination of human and environmental factors that can be observed in a group setting where individual behaviour is influenced by the group and vice versa.

Evidence of Human Factors Training Benefits

The most substantive evidence came from the USAF Military Airlift Command (MAC). In 1985, MAC introduced a Human Factors training program. According to Diehl (1991), in the following five-year period, accident rates fell 52% and serious flight-related mishaps fell 51% when compared to the preceding five-year period. Accident and serious mishap rates in other parts of the USAF fell 18% and 21% respectively in the corresponding periods. The main difference between MAC and other air commands was Human Factors training.

Human Factors training produced a positive attitude shift, which remained stable for up to five years in US airline giant, Delta Airlines (Byrnes & Black, 1993).

In perhaps the best empirical evaluation before the advent of behavioural human factors training, Helmreich & Foushee (1993) reported on a program, which included the use of line-oriented flight training (LOFT) and periodic [HF] training. They found that ratings of human performance in flight operations improved substantially after HF training. While this study did not use specific behavioural markers it does provide additional supporting evidence for the use of HF training within commercial operations. Your business may not be an airline, but an organisation of highly educated and skilled people, operating expensive equipment, making decisions with large financial consequences in a social environment where mishaps, errors or incidents can have a large negative footprint in terms of financial and reputational losses.

More recent attempts to evaluate Human Factors training effectiveness within aviation have focused on behavioural change. Boehm-Davis, Holt & Seamster (2001) report on a training program, which used employee performance evaluations and skills assessments as performance indicators. Data from the first year, before the introduction of the program, functioned as a baseline, and was compared with data from the next two years. The participants were evaluated using standardised behavioural assessments. From this, the authors deduced that the training improved observable performance in Human Factors skills. The authors argued that this study provided supporting evidence to a previous application of the skills assessment in which one fleet (HF training) outperformed another (non- HF training) on half of the check items (Holt, Boehm-Davis & Hansberger, 1999). Therefore, the crews exposed to HF training could be considered to be 50% better on certain desired behavioural markers than those without.

Gunther (2000) reported that over a two year period at Continental Airlines, the introduction of the Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA), a non-jeopardy, normal operations audit program, and subsequent introduction of Human Factors training in threat and error management (TEM), resulted in some remarkable improvements on behavioural safety indices. In 1996, studies indicated that on average flight crew detected 15% of internal errors. After the introduction of a threat and error management course, 55% of internal errors were detected. In the same period, flight crews achieved a 78% reduction in unstable approaches at 1000ft above ground level, and a 40% reduction in unstable approaches at 500ft. Therefore a remarkable improvement in performance, resulting in safer, more profitable operations (reducing missed approaches) were detected.

A more recent addition to the Human Factors collection of tools is Performance Coaching. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was a leader in this field where performance coaching similar to those afforded to Olympic athletes were presented to flying instructors. Those trained Instructor Pilots made a significant change in the performance and reduced the attrition of their students, worth millions of GBP (RAF, 2018; Attachment A).

As a basis for such performance training, personality assessments took place using the services of external consultants for training of instructors in the performance of coaching and the delivery of psychometric instruments.

Interpretation and Inferences of Aircrew Improvement Examples

The examples used above of Human Factors in aircrew training consist largely of rational, behavioural and anecdotal evidence. However, it does not satisfy rigorous scientific method. Arguably, it may be challenging to quantify accidents and incidents that did NOT occur, much like safety applications and the cost-benefit analysis of resources applied to Safety activities. Therefore, hypothetically one could venture the cost of the loss of one aircraft due to Human Factors related shortcomings seen against the relatively miniscule cost of Human Factors training. A simplistic case could be made that at least one aircraft could be saved due to Human Factors training. A more quantifiable cost-benefit can be gleaned from evidence of Human Factors training in technical domains of aviation.

Human Factors Training Benefits in Aviation Technical Applications

Stelly & Poehlmann (2000) reported on the outcome of a two day human factors training course for Continental Airlines. The course produced several behavioural outcomes; a 68% reduction in ground damage incidents, a 12% decrease in job injuries, and 10% reduction in staff overtime. The total cost saving was US$60,000 per year for five years. However, the most impressive cost benefit research to date is that of Taylor (2000). The introduction of a maintenance resource management program at a U.S. airline reduced lost-time injuries (LTI’s) by 80% over two years, with a total claimed cost saving of US$1,300,000 over that period.

The Cost of Human Factors Training

Fixed cost: A large aviation organisation with a mature Human Factors program may have a dedicated Human Factors department with a top management structure and related costs: VP HF (Qatar Airways), Director HF (North America) with associated departmental fixed costs and expenses. However, in an organisation standing up a Human Factors department, the task will fall on an already existing position with no extra cost.

Variable cost: Training of an initial train-the-trainer cadre of instructors will have significant financial outlay, which will decrease as the program becomes self-sustainable. Consumables in the form of externally generated psychological instruments and reports, course material and lost productivity during courses.

Outsourcing: Using external consultants is another option to keep costs down. Commissioning industry leaders with top-tier qualifications and experience will ensure first-class service while employees focus on their main jobs. Ask us for our current pricing options.

The Benefits of Human Factors Training

Hypothetical savings and improved profitability: In addition to the evidence provided above, see the Case Studies under attachment A and B of the RAF and Malta Airlines respectively, who had a significant improvement in quality of output, staff morale and profitability totalling millions of GBP and Euro.


The relatively inexpensive option of implementing Human Factors training you’re your Business or Organization, constitutes a compelling business case. The costs associated with commissioning a Human Factors training capability compares favourably to the benefits you may derive from the reduced rate of employee turnover, improved output standard of employees and positive perceptions of your corporate social responsibilities in addition to the improved welfare of employees and ultimately all stakeholders. The cost of HF training is miniscule against the hypothetical cost of an incident, error or omission, which may be attributed to preventable Human Factors shortcomings, notwithstanding adequate insurance.

Aviation mishaps have a large footprint both financially and sentimentally, therefore, “There is a real concern that those funding future [Human Factors] work may conclude that enough has been accomplished and resources could be better applied elsewhere. It must be stressed that if we focus entirely on applied, immediate needs we can lose the chance for innovative [Human Factors training] that can lead to major progress in optimizing human performance. It is our responsibility to get the message across that the payoffs from investments in this area will be great in terms of the safety and effectiveness of the system” (Helmreich, et al., 1999).- Robert Helmreich was an Aviation Psychologist, globally respected as the “father” of Aviation Human Factors.


Byrnes, R.E., & Black, R. (1993). Developing and implementing CRM programmes: The Delta experience. In E. Weiner, B. Kanki & R. Helmreich (Eds), Cockpit resource management. San Diego: Academic Press.

Boehm-Davis, D.A., Holt, R.W., & Seamster, T.L. (2001). Airline resource management programs. In Salas, E., Bowers, C. & Edens, E. (Eds.), Improving teamwork in organizations: Applications of resource management training. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Diehl, A. E. (1991). Does Cockpit Management Training Reduce Aircrew Error? Paper presented at 22nd International Seminar, International Society of Air Safety Investigators. Canada. Ghunter 2000

Edkins, D. E. (2002). A Review of the Benefits of Aviation Human Factors Training. Human Factors and AAerospace Safety, Vol 31 (3), 247-273.

Helmreich, R. L., Chidester, T.R., Foushee, H.C., Gregorich, S.E., & Wilhelm, J.A. (1990). How effective is cockpit resource management training? Issues in evaluating the impact of programs to enhance crew coordination. Flight Safety Digest, 9(5), 1-17.

Royal Air Force [RAF], (2018). Retrieved from OPP website.