Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Engineering and Sciences

First Advisor

Guy André Boy

Second Advisor

Barbara Burian

Third Advisor

Alexandre Lucas Stephane

Fourth Advisor

Divya Chandra


Pilots currently use paper-based documentation and electronic systems (e.g., Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (ECAM) for Airbus, and Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System (EICAS) for Boeing) to help them perform procedures to ensure safety, efficiency and comfort on commercial aircrafts. Management of interconnections among paper-based operational documents can be a challenge for pilots, especially when time pressure is high in normal, abnormal, and emergency situations. This dissertation is a contribution to the design of an Onboard Context-Sensitive Information System (OCSIS). The claim is that the use of contextual information facilitates access to appropriate operational content at the right time either automatically or on demand. In this research work, the OCSIS was developed and tested on a tablet. It includes operational information on flight, system, performance, and navigation. Its content is organized using a three-layer information structure: need to know or safety-critical information that pilots need immediately (Level 1); nice to know or short explanations of Level 1 (Level 2); and full technical knowledge on systems principle or trouble-shooting (Level 3). These three levels are hyperlinked. A set of purposeful normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures was developed and implemented on a tablet. For example, if a discrepancy between an expected situation and the actual situation is detected, corresponding operational information is provided. In most situations, the Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (ECAM) in Airbus cockpits handles this kind of mechanism. OCSIS is then a complementary source of operational information that, for example, provides performance data or appropriate procedures to be followed. The current version of OCSIS was developed on an iPad using a high-level knowledge representation for procedures and checklists called interactive blocks or iBlocks (Boy, 1998). OCSIS was tested using human-in-the-loop simulations that involved professional pilots in the Airbus 320 cockpit simulator of Human-Centered Design Institute (HCDi). First results are encouraging because they show that OCSIS can be usable and useful for operational information access. More specifically, context-sensitivity contributes to simplify this access (i.e., appropriate operational information is provided at the right time in the right format. In addition, OCSIS provides other features that paper-based documents do not have, such as procedure execution status after an interruption (due to ATC communication, for example). Also, the fact that several calculations are automatically done by OCSIS tends to decrease the pilot's task demand. Of course, we need to conduct further tests and discover emerging properties that this kind of system introduction might generate. This research and design work presents a methodology that supports human-centered design (HCD) of onboard context-sensitive information systems. We developed and tested the OCSIS in the context of commercial aircraft flight decks. Although several findings were elicited from the various testing sessions that we had during the design cycle of this academic work, the main contribution is the articulation of various techniques and tools that make HCD feasible and effective. This research work is about human-centered design that is a combination of agile design and engineering, and formative evaluations of a tangible interactive system, in this case OCSIS. In this kind of approach, human issues are incrementally taken into account during the design phase. This also means that design decisions are incrementally based on results of human-in-the-loop simulations (i.e., we take into account activity - what is effectively done and not only tasks – what is prescribed to be done). Of course, deeper experimental tests should be carried out to confirm our early positive results and demonstrate that OCSIS does not distract pilots from their flying task nor reduce their current flying skills (Boulnois, Tan & Boy, 2015).