A Theory and Model of Conflict Detection in Air Traffic Control: Incorporating Environmental Constraints

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A performance theory for conflict detection in air traffic control is presented that specifies how controllers adapt decisions to compensate for environmental constraints. This theory is then used as a framework for a model that can fit controller intervention decisions. The performance theory proposes that controllers apply safety margins to ensure separation between aircraft. These safety margins are formed through experience and reflect the biasing of decisions to favor safety over accuracy, as well as expectations regarding uncertainty in aircraft trajectory. In 2 experiments, controllers indicated whether they would intervene to ensure separation between pairs of aircraft. The model closely predicted the probability of controller intervention across the geometry of problems and as a function of controller experience. When controller safety margins were manipulated via task instructions, the parameters of the model changed in the predicted direction. The strength of the model over existing and alternative models is that it better captures the uncertainty and decision biases involved in the process of conflict detection.

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