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Pilot Salient Identity Influencing Critical Incident Sensemaking in General Aviation Organizational Safety Open Access

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One critical category of aviation safety is the human factor. This dissertation approached the human factor from the perspective of personal identity and how a transference of identity, or a nonpilot identity, becomes salient and affects pilot decisions. Critical incident technique was used to analyze 193 incidents in the Aviation Safety Reporting System database from January 2008 to December 2009 documenting weather and maneuvering incidents when a "near-miss" occurred. Of these 193 incidents, 11 were found to contain a direct reference to salient identity and six were interpreted to have a more indirect, contextual relationship to salient identity. Those in the direct category related to identities as a professional (two cases), business person (two cases), family role (four cases), social or friendship-related role (two cases), and hobbiest (one case). In all 11 cases, the GA pilots were advised of the adverse circumstances in the initial flight planning and ignored them, choosing instead to pursue the flight and acting counter to the role of a safe pilot. Emotions were also evident in the narratives, as when a pilot made an unnecessary emergency landing because of anxiety about his family, and the salient identity was interpreted as affecting cognition and judgment. This study had five findings. (1) Pilots in the incidents discussed in this study showed a salient identity other than pilot, which directly influenced their sensemaking. (2) GA pilots' emotions during critical incidents had a direct effect on their judgment. (3) The pilots' nonpilot identity led to overconfidence, most evident in this study through numerous incidents of "get-there-itis." Get-there-itis, as well as other poor pilot decisions, could have been avoided through better preflight planning. (4) Other poor judgments linked to nonpilot salient identities were related to lack of situational awareness and overreliance on technology. (5) Social or group considerations were associated with nonpilot salient identities and poor judgments.This qualitative study provides a contribution to the literature and to national data evaluation efforts by providing more insight into the roles of identity and sensemaking in GA safety.

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