Have you ever experienced the feeling of having too much to do without enough time, tools, or resources to do it? If so, you may be familiar with the concept of task saturation. Task saturation is a common challenge that occurs in many professions, but in the aviation world, it can be particularly dangerous. In fact, the National Business Aviation Association ranks task saturation, or pilot overload, as one of its top 10 safety concerns. Without effective task management, pilots can easily become overwhelmed and struggle to maintain situational awareness. As task saturation increases, performance decreases. Therefore, when experiencing task overload, pilots are more likely to make errors, which can escalate the threat of loss of control.
However, task saturation can be preventable with proper planning. One of the best ways to stay focused and avoid becoming overwhelmed by multiple tasks is by following a checklist. For example, pilots are advised to review charts and set radio frequencies in advance to reduce their workload before they enter a high traffic area and prepare to land. By performing checklists well in advance, pilots will have more time and bandwidth to focus on communicating with ATC and monitoring traffic.
The FAA also offers the following advice to pilots encountered with task overload:
Stop: Remain calm and be aware of how you’re feeling. Take a deep breath.
Think: Don’t fixate on a single “important” item, but instead evaluate the situation as a whole.
Slow Down: Put the situation in the proper perspective. Is it a true emergency?
Prioritize: Always remember the order of “aviate, navigate, communicate.” Don’t let a distraction divert your attention from controlling the aircraft.
Work overload is a serious risk to business pilots and general aviation pilots alike. Be aware of when your brain gets overloaded and starts to shut down. Take steps to prevent task saturation by planning ahead or delegating certain tasks to passengers, such as setting the radio frequency. Finally, always remember that the most important task is to maintain control of the airplane. By staying focused and eliminating any unnecessary distractions from the cockpit, you can help prevent the dangers of task saturation.