The things MSc students discover or the delight of supervising

By Colin Pilbeam - October 09, 2023

Another academic year draws to a close and with sighs of relief students submit their dissertations for assessment. Once again, it has been my pleasure to supervise some engaging and enthusiastic students this time from the first cohort of our Aviation Safety Management Risk and Regulation MSc. For students and supervisor alike, it is always a journey of discovery. Here are a few from three of these students.

A study of fatigue in long-haul pilots illustrated clearly the normalisation of deviance in response to 'impossible' rules, where work-as-imagined bears little resemblance to how work can and is done. The results of the survey have significant implications for the successful adoption of extended minimum crew operations (eMCOs). At a practical level, how do you take a toilet break if you are the sole pilot on the flight deck? It also has profound implications for the social learning that is currently an integral part of pilot training and career progression.

With unrivalled access to the BA Heritage Centre at Heathrow, another student charted the evolution of passenger safety briefings since the earliest days of passenger travel more than 80 years ago. As the airline industry has become ultra-safe over this period, and with the attendant advances in technology, I had presumed that safety briefings would have changed, perhaps substantially. How wrong can one be? While the mode of delivery has shifted from paper to card or video, the content of passenger safety briefings is little changed. But perhaps there are only a few very predictable ways to exit a metal tube with holes in!

We rely on air traffic controllers remaining alert and attentive to ensure safe air travel, but how do they spend their mandated breaks? Do these breaks make a difference to the levels of fatigue? A third study showed that while eating and drinking or napping were common, many often used their rest breaks to catch up on work related tasks. This was particularly noticeable amongst those with management responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, breaks were not quite as restorative as they could be.

So very different, and yet so interesting. I’m already looking forward to next year’s projects.