Captain Steven F. Dempsey

Captain Steven F. Dempsey, B737 Captain, Chair – Delta Air Lines Human Factors Working Group (HFWG)

Captain Dempsey began his aviation career as an Air Force ROTC cadet at the University of New Hampshire where he earned a Mechanical Engineering degree and election into the national engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. After earning his wings Captain Dempsey graduated top of his class from USAF Pilot Instructor school, noting his first 1,500 career sorties involved no autopilot and no autothrottles in the T-38 aircraft. My how times have changed…

30 years later Captain Dempsey has accumulated more than 15,000 hours flight time, 20 years’ experience as a flight instructor/FAA APD, and ratings on Airbus, Boeing, and McDonnell Douglas aircraft. As a young instructor of human factors at the DAL pilot instructor school, Captain Dempsey found advances in the study of Human Factors a formidable ally in serving two masters – guiding pilots thru the complexity of flight and reducing pilot error. 

Tasked with incorporating the latest in Human Factors science into all of Delta Flight Ops, Captain Dempsey a decade ago created and chaired the DAL Human Factors Working Group, now nearly 50 pilots strong. The HFWG has a measurable track record of reducing pilot error and Captain Dempsey often shares this success with the aviation community – co-chairing the industry Flight Path Monitoring study published in 2014; assisting DARPA in developing robotic First Officers; advising the USAF on incorporating HF into training; lecturing at MAWTS (the USMC Top Gun school); and assisting other air carriers in implementing various HF strategies. 

Currently, the DAL HFWG is completing a 4-year effort to reduce flight path deviations with innovative approaches to Flight Path Management. Captain Dempsey is delighted to share some of his observations of this effort with the 2020 WATS audience. 


The Ideology of Human Factors

I was recently watching a video ebrief of how to fly a V1 cut. It was a good video. It showed the procedure in the book. It showed a crew ably put the correct rudder in and make all the correct callouts. It had a personable actress dressed as a pilot narrate the event. It was good training. It lasted 4 minutes.

Subsequently I was asked to create an ebrief video for Threat and Error Management. I was told the video could last 5 minutes. I looked at the stack of CRM/TEM/HF books surrounding my desk. I turned off my computer and picked up my new favorite book – Philosophy for Dummies. I highly recommend this book when faced with one of life’s biggest obstacles.

Modern data collection clearly demonstrates the relationship between human factors and flight path deviations. Those of us in the HF business can (and usually do) quickly identify a human factor root cause to any ASAP report. Yet improving CRM skills in the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of pilots is to me, the holy grail of aviation training present and future. CRM is in the fabric of all we do as pilots. It does not just happen during an engine failure on takeoff. And it can’t be taught in a 5-minute video.

Delta began a 4-year project in 2015 aimed at reducing flight path deviations by improving flight path management. This entailed a paradigm shift in the way Delta views flight operations – including redefining flight path management, redefining and simplifying threats, threat management and error management. All this was achieved through elevating the cultural standing of human factors in flight training and standards. Lessons learned from this practical effort will be discussed in this segment.