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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

JU Researches The Effects Of Stress On Pilots’ Performance

Jacksonville University

Jacksonville University’s speech-pathology program and College of Health Sciences have partnered to conduct innovative research on the ability of pilots to perform and communicate in crisis conditions.

Melissa Ross sat down with Dr. Juan Merkt, Director of Aeronautics at the Davis Aviation Center, and Christine Sapienza, Associate Dean of JU’s College of Health Sciences, to discuss the study.

The research will involve looking at the brain, sensory system and motor system.

“We’re taking people who know about communication, stress and hyper-arousal, and we’re putting them together,” Sapienza said.

Pilots have to act and communicate in taxing and immediate events, especially if there is a crisis.

According to Merkt, about 70 to 80 percent of fatal air accidents are still being caused by human factors.

“In many cases, these accidents happen for unexplained reasons, or the pilots react the wrong way in a critical emergency,” Merkt said. “We believe that the amount of stress that the pilot is going through at that moment may be an important factor.”

For the research, the amount of stress will be altered while airline pilots use the JU flight simulator. The purpose of the study is to reduce human error.

“The goal is to deal with the new generation of pilots and to train them on how to react to stress,” Sapienza said. “We’re trying to help pilots train themselves with difficult situations.”

The research team is in the process of creating the protocol and looking for individuals who want to study this type of stress.

For Merkt, the study incorporates both his academic expertise in physiology and his life-long passion—aviation.

“To me, this research brings it all together,” he said.

JU’s cutting-edge flight simulator has the ability to allow participants to land in a virtual Atlanta, even while it’s raining.

“It shows people what it’s like and how talented pilots are being able to land in those situations,” Sapienza said.

“I really think the simulator is going to be something the community’s going to find interesting. You can help people understand aviation and help things like fear of flying.”

According to Merkt, the JU community will greatly benefit from the research.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for the program, students and faculty to be involved in some leading-edge research,” he said.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Emily Long @EMchanted_.


Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
WJCT News Intern Emily Long is a Communications Major, Marketing Minor at Jacksonville University. She is also News Editor of Jacksonville University's campus newspaper, The Navigator.