Task Analysis Case Study: Cognitive Task Analysis

EUROCONTROL is an intergovernment organizational that helps its 41 member states to operate a safe and efficient air traffic management system throughout Europe.  Founded in 1960, EUROCONTROL works to create a commonly agreed upon air traffic management system by providing expertise in the operational and technical elements of air traffic control (www.eurocontrol.int).  In 2007, the European Air Traffic Management Programme under EUROCONTROL conducted a cognitive task analysis of the First Air Traffic Support Tools Implementation (FASTI) and published their results.


In 2007, the FASTI programme was being designed to co-ordinate the implementation of a common air traffic management system across Europe. Three tools were included in the concept:

  • Medium Term Conflict Detection (MTCD) - an automated algorithm that could assist the operator by searching for conflicts as far as 20 minutes in the future.
  • Monitoring Aids (MONA - a set of automated alerts and warnings to assist the operator in monitoring the progress of aircraft.
  • System-supported Co-ordination (SYSCO) - the ability to employ screen to screen dialog in the handing off of flights from one controller to another.

The deployment of FASTI has the following aims:

  • Increase sector capacity, improve flow rates, and reduce delays.
  • Increase potential for flexibility, changes in operational practices and changes in conditions specified in Letters of Agreement (LOAs).
  • Introduce the potential for cost savings through the automation of routine tasks, flexible staffing, system and airspace development, and controller training.
  • Support an improved quality of service to airspace users in the form of optimum profiles and routes, and less ATC interventions in flight.

The purpose of this case study was to understand the impact of implementing automated tools like FASTI into the human work system of air traffic management.

Tools like TaskArchitect are key to the development of a detailed cognitive task analysis.  As you can see in the image below, the first part of the analysis is the deconstruction of the air traffic management task into a hierarchical structure. 

The authors first established the overall goal of providing air traffic control services and then deconstructed this goal into 407 separate tasks.  Breaking out these tasks into subtasks aided the project for the capture of the data and served as a conduit to the other analysis tools.

Below shows an example of the authors breaking a task into subtasks:

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 3.34.24 PM.png

The TaskArchitect Team provided on-site support to the CMC team in order to assist with the application of TaskArchitect within the project. This included assistance in the development of the data structure to support the Hierarchical Goal Analysis, customized reports to clearly show the structure of the data collected (Perceptual Control Theory Control Loops), and export of the data to both the Linux based IPME Tool and FORTRAN based OSD drawing tool.

TaskArchitect was chosen as the data collection tool for the project because of the ease of configuring it to new analysis methods, the speed of data entry and data display, and the flexibility of output formats. The wide range of outputs helped with Subject Matter Expert Reviews and review of the project progress by the project sponsors. The ease of learning to use TaskArchitect meant that at times the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) could re-work the data in TaskArchitect to show the required changes. Because of these benefits, it has become the central repository for the data, with easy export to IPME and CMC’s in-house OSD drawing tool. 

The export of Hierarchical Task Analysis data directly to IMPE, including perceptual and cognitive aspects of the tasks allowed the task networks to be automatically generated—saving time and increasing the ease of re-working the data set. Export of the data to CMS’s OSD drawing tool meant that SMEs could review the data in Operational Sequence Diagrams, and then, on the fly, the Hierarchical Goal Analysis data could be re-worked and re-presented for further review. 

TaskArchitect’s rapid data entry and display, compared to the tools previously used (ACCESS and Excel) reduced the project timelines substantially and allowed the team to produce powerful reports and diagrams that they could not have contemplated trying to produce before. By enabling the easy movement of data between other tools during and after the reviews, TaskArchitect has helped CMC and DRDC to create a very powerful tool suite.