Dead Reckoning: Air Traffic Control, System Effects, and Risk
by Diane Vaughan
University of Chicago Press, 2021
eISBN: 978-0-226-79654-3 | Cloth: 978-0-226-79640-6
Library of Congress Classification TL725.3.T7V384 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 387.7404260973

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Vaughan unveils the complicated and high-pressure world of air traffic controllers as they navigate technology and political and public climates, and shows how they keep the skies so safe.

When two airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, Americans watched in uncomprehending shock as first responders struggled to react to the situation on the ground. Congruently, another remarkable and heroic feat was taking place in the air: more than six hundred and fifty air traffic control facilities across the country coordinated their efforts to ground four thousand flights in just two hours—an achievement all the more impressive considering the unprecedented nature of the task.

In Dead Reckoning, Diane Vaughan explores the complex work of air traffic controllers, work that is built upon a close relationship between human organizational systems and technology and is remarkably safe given the high level of risk. Vaughan observed the distinct skill sets of air traffic controllers and the ways their workplaces changed to adapt to technological developments and public and political pressures. She chronicles the ways these forces affected their jobs, from their relationships with one another and the layouts of their workspace to their understandings of their job and its place in society. The result is a nuanced and engaging look at an essential role that demands great coordination, collaboration, and focus—a role that technology will likely never be able to replace. Even as the book conveys warnings about complex systems and the liabilities of technological and organizational innovation, it shows the kinds of problem-solving solutions that evolved over time and the importance of people.

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