Research Projects

Effective Task Saturation Interventions to Improve Airport Employee Performance

Assigned to Steven Aude

The objective of this research is to improve airport employee

performance under conditions of task saturation. While task saturation

is listed as a top 10 safety concern, there is little to no evidence

that there are interventions in place to mitigate its impact on human

performance. This research will produce an intervention (training, tool,

etc.) that will be made available to airports nationwide for

their use. The results of this research are expected to be applicable to

a wide range of airports and airport employees.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Task saturation has been defined as when multiple tasks need to be
accomplished that exceed the capability to accomplish them in a given
amount of time (Davis et al., 2014). This overload in tasks reduces
performance and can lead to devastating results (Endsley, 1999;
Helmreich & Foushee, 2010). As Eric Barfield, chairman of the U.S.
National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Safety Committee,
indicates: "Task saturation is having too much to do without enough
time, tools or resources to do it. That can lead to an inability to
focus on what really matters. As task saturation increases, a pilot, air
traffic controller or maintenance engineer may start shutting down,
unable to continue to perform safely." (NBAA, 2013). The aviation
industry has recognized task saturation as an issue with multiple
consequences and causal factors (NBAA, 2011). Much of the emphasis on
task saturation has been with air crew performance (see, for example,
Kanki, Helmreich, & Anca, 2010). Yet, airports and its associated
operational crews are also known to be at risk for this phenomena and
suffer its debilitating impact on performance. Task saturation can occur
in cabin member crews, flight line employees, maintenance technicians,
schedulers and dispatchers, management, and anyone related to flight
safety (NBAA, 2011, 2013). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
also provides event documentation forms in which task saturation is
specifically identified as a possible cause for an airport event in both
ramp and maintenance error forms (Boeing, 2013, 2016). Task saturation
may not be incurred simply due to extreme peaks in demands during
high-volume periods. Other reasons relevant to a particular context may
exist. For airports and their employees, other reasons could include
weather that imposes additional tasks in an already tight schedule;
holiday schedules that disrupt teams and routine procedures; or raised
security that adds new, unfamiliar procedures. Task saturation could
also be a situational occurrence such as when an emergency, crisis,
manmade or natural disaster impacts airport operations (Hanaoka, Indo,
Hirata, Todoroki, Aratani & Osada, 2013). Normal operating
procedures are disrupted or perhaps no longer applicable. Airport
personnel may have to double up or replace personnel who are not
available. Yet while there are indicators that task saturation exists
and impacts airports, little information is found to support
interventions to mitigate its impact or more simply what to do about it
when it happens. And when interventions are mentioned they tend to
address surface-level or single-factor causes. One airport handbook, for
example, cites task saturation as an issue and goes on to refers
individuals to a manual on fatigue (Greater Toronto Airports Authority,
2015). The NBAA encourages communication, self-assessment, and
collaboration to combat the effects of task saturation (NBAA, 2013). But
beyond a few handbooks and articles, there does not appear to be much in
the way of tangible tools that would enable airport employees to
proactively address, or mitigate, the impact of task saturation on their
performance. Research on task saturation and related phenomena, however,
has progressed in a number of academic fields and applied settings. The
organizational and cognitive sciences, along with the human factors
discipline, have identified contributing and mitigating factors that
include: information collection and transfer, task prioritization, and
task transfer (Waller, 1999); human-centered design of automated systems
to increase situational awareness (Shulte, 2002); and interruptions to
ongoing task performance mitigated by the persuasiveness of displays and
auditory signals (Iani & Wickens, 2007). Much of the aforementioned
and related task saturation research was performed on aviation pilots
and flight crews for the purpose of improving performance and reducing
human error as a contributing factor to catastrophic accidents.
Concurrently, the research has been extended and appropriated for use by
others, notably military combat casualty care teams as well as private-
and public-sector hospital quality care initiatives (Davis et al., 2014;
Jernigan et al., 2016; Johansson et al., 2016). The present problem
statement seeks to similarly leverage task saturation research to
airport employee work performance. The objective of this research is to
improve airport employee performance under conditions of task
saturation. While task saturation is listed as a top 10 safety concern,
there is little to no evidence that there are interventions in place to
mitigate its impact on human performance. This research will produce an
intervention (training, tool, etc.) that will be piloted and made
available to airports nationwide for their use. The results of this
research are expected to be applicable to a wide range of airports and
airport employees.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The objective of this research is to improve airport employee
performance under conditions of task saturation. While task saturation
is listed as a top 10 safety concern, there is little to no evidence
that there are interventions in place to mitigate its impact on human
performance. This research will produce an intervention (training, tool,
etc.) that will be made available to airports nationwide for
their use. The results of this research are expected to be applicable to
a wide range of airports and airport employees.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

I.
TITLE: EFFECTIVE TASK SATURATION INTERVENTIONSTO IMPROVE AIRPORT
EMPLOYEE
PERFORMANCE
Task saturation is rated one of the top 10 business aviation safety focus areas. However, business aviation is not the
only segment of the aviation industry affected by task saturation. All aviation employees who impact flight safety
,
cutting across multiple roles and responsibilities, are recognized to be at risk of task saturation. Yet, interventions
designed to support airport employee mitigation of task saturation address few, if any, of the underlying factors
which research has shown contribute to its occurrence and consequences for performance. The objective of this
research is to identify and prioritize interventions(s) (training, tools, job aids, etc.) that airports and their employees
can use to improve their performance (Ball
antyne, 2015).
II.
BACKGROUND
Task saturation has been defined as when multiple tasks need to be accomplished that exceed the capability to
accomplish them in a given amount of time (Davis et al., 2014). This overload in tasks reduces performance and can
lead to devastating results (Endsley, 1999; Helmreich & Foushee, 2010). As Eric Barfield, chair of the U.S. National
Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Safety Committee, indicates: "Task saturation is having too much to do
without enough time, tools or resources to do it. That can lead to an inability to focus on what really matters. As task
saturation increases, a pilot, air traffic controller or maintenance engineer may start shutting down, unable to continue
to perform safely." (NBAA, 2013).
The avia
tion industry has recognized task saturation as an issue with multiple consequences and causal factors
(NBAA, 2011). Much of the emphasis on task saturation has been with aircrew performance (see, for example,
Kanki, Helmreich, & Anca, 2010). Yet, airports
and its associated operational crews are also known to be at risk for
this phenomenon and suffer its debilitating impact on performance. Task saturation can occur in cabin member
crews, flight line employees, maintenance technicians, schedulers and dispat
chers, management, and anyone related
to flight safety (NBAA, 2011, 2013). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ramp and maintenance error forms
require task saturation documentation be identified as possible causes for airport events (Boeing, 2013, 2016).
Task saturation may occur for other reasons, such as irregular operational events.. For airports and their employees,
other reasons could include weather that imposes additional tasks in an already tight schedule; holiday schedules that
disrupt team
s and routine procedures; or raised security that adds new, unfamiliar procedures. Task saturation could
also be a situational occurrence such as when an emergency, crisis, manmade or natural disaster impacts airport
operations (Hanaoka, Indo, Hirata, Tod
oroki, Aratani & Osada, 2013). Normal operating procedures are disrupted or
perhaps no longer applicable. Airport personnel may have to double up or replace personnel who are not available.
Yet while there are indicators that task saturation exists and
affects airports, little research supports interventions to
mitigate its impact. There are few procedures or tools that can assist in maintaining airport operations. Interventions
when mentioned they tend to address surface
-level or single
-factor causes. One airport handbook, for example, cites
task saturation as an issue and goes on to refers individuals to a manual on fatigue (Greater Toronto Airports
Authority, 2015). The NBAA encourages communication, self
-assessment, and collaboration to combat the effects of
task saturation (NBAA, 2013). Nevertheless, beyond a few handbooks and articles, there does not appear to be much
in the way of tangible tools that would enable airport employees to proactively address, or mitigate, the impact of
task saturation
on their performance.
Research on task saturation and related phenomena, however, has progressed in a number of academic fields and
applied settings. The organizational and cognitive sciences, along with the human factors discipline, have identified
contr
ibuting and mitigating factors that include: information collection and transfer, task prioritization, and task
transfer (Waller, 1999); human
-centered design of automated systems to increase situational awareness (Shulte,
2002); and interruptions to ongoi
ng task performance mitigated by the persuasiveness of displays and auditory
signals (Iani & Wickens, 2007).
Task saturation research was performed on aviation pilots and flight crews for the purpose of improving performance
and reducing human error as a contributing factor to catastrophic accidents. Studies with hospital and military
medical care teams have shown that task saturation problems contribute to poor patient outcomes (Davis et al., 2014;
Jernigan et al., 2016; Johansson et al., 2016). Leveragi
ng these studies will assist in studying the task saturation
problems regarding airport employee performance.
The objective of this research is to improve airport employee performance under conditions of task saturation. While
task saturation is listed
as a top 10 safety concern, there is little to no evidence that there are interventions in place to
mitigate its impact on human performance. This research will produce for ACRP an intervention (training, tool, etc.),
pilot of the tool, and training guides
for airport adoption. The results of this research are expected to be applicable to
a wide range of airports and airport employees. The proposed tasks are literature review, data collection and
analysis, intervention design and development, pilot testing
, and reporting.
III.
PROPOSED TASKS
A.
Literature Review and Research Question refinement: Review literature across disciplines and industries for
information about what factors, strategies, and interventions improve human performance under conditions
of task saturation. This will include private sector as well as related military defense research. Additionally,
the review will select literature on airports and their workforce organization and needs to identify employees
performing critical tasks where
task saturation is likely to impact performance (Cronin, Alexander, & Lewis,
2016).
An additional research activity conducted as part of the literature review will be to refine the research
questions. This will be accomplished by drawing the task satu
ration literature findings along with
determining the appropriate airport sample for the research. If there are airport demographics, FAA
corrective action notice statistics (e.g. Part 139 compliance) or other indicators that indicate a certain strata of
airports are particularly susceptible to task saturation, this may help focus the research on a particular sub
-set
of airports. For example, airport size and activity characteristics may influence the cause and nature of task
saturation to differ. Cong
estion for large hub airports, staff or resources shortages for medium hub airports,
and General Aviation (GA) airports with a high number of operations may each be contributing factors to
task saturation. Given the pervasive nature of task saturation it will be important to confirm at this junction
of the study, the focus and specific questions the research is designed to answer. It may be that a certain
airport strata is especially prone to task saturation and the research questions should focus on them. Yet
given the absence of specific research on airport task saturation, it may better serve the needs of the ACRP to
initially learn more about the existence of task saturation by surveying a large population of airports to
determine what airport demogra
phics and other factors tend to correlate with its occurrence.
Data Collection: The research team proposes to conduct observations, review documents and conduct
interviews with select employees at three representative airports. Data collection will investigate where,
when and with whom task saturation is occurring across critical airport functions and employee roles/job
positions. The team will seek out opportunities to observe employees under conditions of task saturation
should they arise. We will ident
ify the extent of task saturation at airports, its consequences along with in-
place mitigation strategies and their effectiveness. Data collection will include a review of Airport Safety
Management systems and procedures; disaster and emergency response systems for evidence of proactive
prevention and/or task saturation mitigation strategies and interventions. It may also be the case that task
saturation occurs during infrequent critical incidents which are not observable during normal airport
operations
and data collection site visits. Accordingly, the interview question protocol will ask employees if
they have knowledge of or experience with such incidents. Thus task saturation will be investigated under
conditions of normal and irregular airport opera
tions situation. The data will identify the consequences of
task saturation on performance as well as the interventions employees recommend be maintained or put into
place.
B.
Data Analysis: Data analysis will identify the airport's organization functio
ns (e.g., operations, security) and
positions most susceptible to task saturation together with their consequences for employee and ultimately
airport performance. The situational context along with its occurrence during normal or irregular operations
wil
l also be identified. It is also expected that there will be correlating airport characteristics and factors that
might flag or alert airport management that their facility is particularly vulnerable or immune to task
saturation. Along with this identifi
cation will be the capturing of 'in use' best practices for addressing task
saturation. Employee recommendations for needed interventions to combat task saturation will also be
collected.
C.
Intervention(s) Design and Development: This task will identify
and prioritize intervention(s) (training, tools,
job aids, etc.) that can be implemented by airports and their employees. The research team in conjunction
with the ACRP will select the most promising intervention(s) to mitigate the effects of, and improve
,
employee performance under task saturation conditions.
D.
Pilot Test the Intervention(s) at One Airport: This task will put the intervention into the hands of its intended
users to evaluate and revise the intervention(s) prior to widespread distribution. Guides to aide in airport in
airport adoption will also be developed.
E.
Report Development: A written report will document the research, intervention(s) design, development,
pilot, and airport adoption guidance.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

IV.
ESTIMATED FUNDING
Approximately $450,000.00. This funding level is n
eeded as proposed approach not only collects and analyzes
airport data but translates findings into an intervention which is made available to airports. Actual data collection
trips to airports are envisioned as well as intervention design, development an
d pilot phases of this applied research.
V.
ESTIMATED RESEARCH DURATION
Owing to the development and piloting of the planned intervention(s), this research is estimated to take upwards of
two years. The literature review and preparations for data
collection will occur in the first six months, followed by
data collection and analysis at three airports in the next six months. The first six months of the second year will be
devoted to identifying, designing, and developing a prototype intervention. Th
e last six months will include pilot
testing and evaluating intervention effectiveness, revising as needed. Research documentation will occur throughout
the project and will be completed by the end of the two
-year period of performance.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

VI.
RELATED RESEARCH
Aviation pilot and crew research provides a considerable amount of the task saturation research. Military medicine
and private sector healthcare appropriated this research and extended it to their teams, employees and work
situations
. Citations are provided which evidence task saturation to be a problem experienced by airport employees.
Complete citations for all in text references are listed below:
Ballantyne, K. (2015). The fatal five: Flight Safety Australia. Retrieved on Marc
h 18th 2018 from
http://www.flightsafetyaustralia.com/2015/01/the
-fatal
-five/
Boeing. (2013). Maintenance Error Decision Aid (MEDA) user's guide. Retrieved on March 18th 2018 from
https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/maintenance_hf/library/
———. (2016). Ramp Error Decision Aid (REDA) user's guide. Retrieved from
https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/maintenance_hf/library/
Cronin, C., Alexander, A., & Lewis, C. (2016). Identifying and evaluating airport workforce requirements (ACRP
Web
-only document 28). Transportation Research Board. Retrieved on March 16th from
http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/acrp/acrp_webdoc_028.pdf
Davis, B., Welch, K., Walsh-
Hart, S., Hanseman, D., Petro, M., Gerlach, T., et al. (2014). Effective teamwork and
communication mitigate task saturation in simulated critical care air transport team missions. Military Medicine
179(Suppl. 8), 19–
23.Retrived on March 15th at doi:10.7205/MILMED
-D-13
-00240
Helmreich, R. L., & Foushee, C. H. (2010). Why CRM? Empirical and theoretical bases of human factors training. In
B. G. Kanki, R. L. Helmreich, and J. Anca (Eds.), Crew resource management (3
–58). Elsevier: Burlington, MA.
Kanki, B. G., Helmreich, R. L., & Anca, J. (Eds.). (2010). Crew resource management. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.
Endsley, M. R. (1999). Situation awareness in aviation systems. In D. J. Garland, J. A. Wise, & V. D. Hopin (Eds.),
Handbook of aviation human factors (257–
276). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hanaoka, S., Indo, Y., Hirata, T., Todoroki, T., A
ratani, T., & Osada, T. (2013). Lessons and challenges in airport
operation during disaster: Case studies on Iwate Hanamaki airport, Yamagata airport, and Fukushima airport during
the great east Japan earthquake. Journal of JSCE, Vol 1., 286-
297.
Iani, C., & Wickens, C. D. (2007). Factors affecting task management in aviation. Human Factors, 49(1), February,
16–24.
Greater Toronto Airports Authority. (2015). Airport traffic directives AVOP DA. Toronto Pearson Airport. Retrieved
on March 15th 2018 from
https://www.torontopearson.com/uploadedFiles/B2B/Content/Existing_Business/AVOP_Program/2015AirportTraffi
cDirectivesAVOPDA_July2015V2.pdf
National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). (June, 2013). Task saturation: How much is too much? Retrieved
on Marc
h 15th from https://www.nbaa.org/ops/safety/20130617-
task
-saturation
-how
-much
-is-too-
much.php
———. (July/August, 2011). Open rapport in the cockpit is essential to CRM. Retrieved on March 15th 2018 from
https://www.nbaa.org/news/insider/2011/07/crew
-resour
ce-
management.php
Jernigan, P., Wallace, M., Novak, C., Gerlach, T., Hanseman, D., Pritts, T., et al. (2016). Measuring intangibles:
Defining predictors of non-
technical skills in critical care air transport team trainees. Military Medicine, 181(10),
1357–1362.
Johansson, E., Wilson, D., Mapson, C., Young, K., Littwin, S., Shallcross, L., et al. (2016). Enhancing human
performance for better health care outcomes. Physicians Leadership Journal, January/February.
Siems, A., Cartron, A., Watson, A., McCarte
r, R. J., & Levin, A. (2017). Improving pediatric rapid response team
performance through crew resource management training of team leaders. Hospital Pediatrics, 7(2), 88
–95.
doi:10.1542/hpeds.2016-
0111
Shulte, A. (2002). Cognitive automation for tactical
mission management: Concept and prototype evaluation in flight
simulator trials. Cognition, Technology and Work, 4, 146–159.
Waller, M. J. (1999). The timing of adaptive group responses to nonroutine events. Academy of Management
Journal, 42(2), 127
–137.
VII.
PROCESS USED TO DEVELOP PROBLEM STATEMENT
ICF routinely performs task saturation research and intervention development and fielding in other industry contexts.
Its People Performance and Learning Solutions (PPLS) group discovered similarities in the problem of task
saturation experienced by airpor
ts in the transportation industry. Preliminary searches identified task saturation as a
top 10 aviation safety issue for airports, pilots and flight crews. PPLS found it intriguing and potentially useful that
task saturation originated as a phenomenon in a
viation pilot and crew research, yet had not been thoroughly
researched in its application to airports and their employees. In addition, remedies addressing task saturation were
noticeably absent or addressed by single factor solutions (e.g. fatigue). Th
is insight sparked additional interest in the
topic and the development of this problem statement.
VIII.
PERSON SUBMITTING PROBLEM STATEMENT
AND DATE
The Problem Statement Point of Contact is Dr. Steven N. Aude, ph. 913 240 3188, e
-mail: steven.aude@icf
.com
Dr. Aude and Dr. Sue Dass collaborated on the initial writing and submission of this problem statement. We
consulted with Drs. Brian Cronin and Allison Alexander on the application of related and extended task saturation
research to airport employee performance. Mr. Mark O'Connor, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) served as
ACRP mentor editing the problem statement and offering ideas and considerations for inclusion in the proposed
research.

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