Analysing communication dynamics at the transaction level: the case of Air France Flight 447

Lida Z. David, Jan Maarten Schraagen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleProfessional

    13 Citations (Scopus)
    167 Downloads (Pure)


    A system’s continuous adaptability is a vital determinant of its safety. It is thus very important for a system to reach graceful extensibility, the ability to adapt in unexpected situations (Woods in Reliab Eng Syst Saf,, 2015). Current methods to study patterns of adaptation have mostly focused on relatively static network relationships of short time scales. We argue that both adaptive and maladaptive patterns of adaptation are rooted in patterned behaviours that should be studied in light of their previous history of transactions. Those patterns may develop over longer time scales yet exert their effects during unexpected situations on shorter time scales. In this study, we focused on communication patterns that played out during the Air France 447 incident. Butts (2008) relational event model was employed to examine the communication dynamics amongst the pilots in the cockpit of flight AF447, and illustrate how communication patterns may be studied by considering sequences of relational events, thus adopting a dynamic, de-contextualised approach to system analysis, at a ‘transaction level’. The analysis of the communication transcript revealed patterned changes in some communication dynamics in the cockpit after the flight entered an unexpected situation, which led to the biased strengthening or weakening of certain links in the network. These changes—even though preliminary due to the limited number of agents analysed—suggest that capturing the structural composition of a system at the transaction level assists in explaining how transactions fail, and can be used for the development of better system structures or training procedures for system interaction.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)637-649
    Number of pages13
    JournalCognition, technology and work
    Issue number4
    Early online date24 Jul 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


    • Adaptability
    • Air France 447
    • Complex sociotechnical systems
    • Relational event model
    • Resilience
    • Team communication
    • Transactions


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