Purdue University Graduate School
Nsikak Udo-Imeh Dissertation.pdf (2.2 MB)

Dimensions of Pilot Experience and Their Contribution to Adverse Weather Decision Making

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posted on 2020-05-20, 14:36 authored by Nsikak Udo-ImehNsikak Udo-Imeh
Erroneous decisions made by pilots during encounters with adverse weather is often cited as a cause of General Aviation accidents. Pilot experience, which can be measured in several ways, is believed to play a role in the outcome of such encounters. However, it is unclear whether any of the elements of experience alone or in combinations affect the likelihood of General Aviation accidents during actual encounters with adverse weather, or how they do so. One barrier to conclusively determining such effects is the danger in extrapolating simulation results to the real world; nearly all work done to date has used simulators to identify accident risk. Therefore, the extent to which such results can be applied to actual flying is not clear.

In this work, two conceptual models for analyzing experience and its role inencounters with adverse weather during the cruise phase of General Aviation Part 91 fixed wing operations are presented. A novel method for evaluating accident risk, specifically the likelihood that an incident turns into an accident is also presented and then used to evaluate the experience profile of 595 pilots, detailed in actual accident and incident reports from the NTSB and ASRS databases. The effect of various elements of experience, alone and in combinations, on that risk is evaluated using regression modeling. The level of significance for each experience variable is first established, and then a series of discrete models is developed to progressively evaluate accident risk along a hypothetical experience continuum. This approach obviates commonly encountered challenges with research in the area and provides results that are ecologically valid.

The focus of this research work was on the role of cognitive aspects of experience in the outcome of flights during the cruise phase of General Aviation Part 91 fixed wing flights between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2015. Only flights which encountered adverse weather during the cruise phase and for which experience and/or errors in decision making were determined to be a cause or factor in the outcome were included in the study. All flights during the period that involved takeoff and landing, equipment failure or student pilots were not considered for the study. The emphasis of the research was on the effect of experience on cognitive aspects of pilot performance during adverse weather encounters, rather than “stick and rudder” skills.

It was found that variables related to the breadth or variety of pilots’ experience are more predictive of the likelihood of adverse weather encounters turning into accidents compared to those related to the duration or length of experience. While several commonly used measures of experience provide some level of insulation against accidents, the relationship between elements that define the length or duration of experience and outcomes is not linear. Furthermore, this relationship is mediated by variables that define the breadth of experience, especially at their lower levels. These findings may be leveraged to design specifically targeted regulatory or training policies and interventions to expedite the transition from novice to expert pilots in General Aviation weather-related decision making.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Industrial Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr Steven Landry

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Dr Steven Landry

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr Vincent Duffy

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr Mary E. Johnson

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr Hong Wan

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