AUTOPACE is a research project funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 699238. It performs fundamental research on psychological modelling to predict how future automation would impact on air traffic controllers (ATCo) performance and to identify competences and training to cope with the effects of automation on humans.

Why a project like AUTOPACE?

The air traffic management (ATM) system moves towards an increasingly high level of automation which will provide outstanding performance benefits. High automation will bring higher capacity at high standards of efficiency and predictability whilst ensuring proper levels of safety.

Automation will unavoidably change the ATCo work environment and the role of the human will be focused on more complex and high-value tasks. In such a role, humans must maintain the situational awareness and understanding of the automated systems’ decisions. For this reason, only the deep understanding of the impact of automation on human performance will facilitate the evolution of the ATM system to make the most of the automation benefits whilst ensuring safety. A well-defined human machine interaction must be developed in a way that fosters human confidence in the system functions while maintains the ATCo in the loop of the operations.

To address this need, AUTOPACE Consortium assembles five organisations with a large experience on the field of ATM psychological modelling and ATM system operations. AUTOPACE is led by CRIDA, the R&D+i Centre of the Spanish Air Navigation Service Provider (ENAIRE) and formed by the University of Granada – Faculty of Psychology, the Polytechnic University of Madrid – School of Controllers; the University of Bologna; and the University of Belgrade – Faculty of Transport and Traffic Engineering.

General overview to AUTOPACE project

AUTOPACE will perform analytical studies to estimate cognitive demanded resources in a 2050 environment based on the multiple resource theory. Later on, AUTOPACE Psychologists, ATM Experts, Controllers and Training experts will set the hypothesis to build a Psychological Model of the ATCo cognitive resources based on the attentional theories. These theories predict different impacts of automation on the demanded and available cognitive resources.

  • The classical theory considers that automation only affects the task complexity and hence reduces the demanded resources. Therefore, automation might present a risk of lack of attention due to an excess of available resources.
  • Alternative theories foresee that automation would also affect the pool of available resources depending on controller´s expectations: when the ATCo expects that the task is easy she/he will get bored and out-of-the-loop effect might appear. On the contrary, fears of automation failing would increase stress causing disorientation or erratic behaviour.

Finally, AUTOPACE will look at the future use of this Psychological Model to support the identification of future competences and training strategies.


Expected results

As a result of its research activity, AUTOPACE will produce an experimental plan to validate the psychological model that determines the automation impacts and it will provide understanding on how new competences and training strategies will help future controller to cope with automation. These two main outputs will enable the definition of a methodology for the analysis of the automation impact on Human Performance.


AUTOPACE. Facilitating the AUTOmation PACE